Sunday, August 06, 2006

Virginia’s 21st and Raphael’s 43rd birthday celebration

Virginia turns 21 on the 9th August and her father Raphael 43 on the 10th. We bought a cake from Aru Bakery in Kolmera the day before and presented it to the family. Tonight we had a celebration. A number of the children and young adults from our immediate community gathered together in the yet to be completed front room of “our” family’s slowly being built new home. The littlies sat on a mat on the floor while the young and older adults sat on the ubiquitous plastic chairs. The cake took pride of place at the centre of the table while biscuits, bananas, apples, water and soft drinks (supplied by our family) adorned its edges.

Instead of the attention being on Virginia and Raphael, however, I felt the attention was still on us as the honoured malae guests. The entire conversation was dominated by Raphael and Daniel. It doesn’t help that my Tetum is not as advanced as Daniel’s but it is a fact that in such situations, the men tend to hold court. I find it an incredibly frustrating aspect of Timorese culture. But Raphael is a very good man and I have to remind myself that he cannot so easily overcome the deep patriarchy he was born and raised in.

An interesting comment made by Raphael was that he and Domingas wanted to return to living in the districts once the children had grown up and left home. He said that it was very difficult to grow food in Dili due to the lack of land and that being dependent on money to buy food was an incredible challenge.
This confirms what I have read about the food insecurity problem in Timor which is that Dili residents are at greater risk of going hungry than those who live in the districts and have more land at their disposal. As Domingas is from Ainaro and Raphael from Bobonaro, Daniel asked where they would return to and he replied either place. At least they’re both from the West!

I asked the littlies if they would like their photo taken and they immediately became excited by the prospect. It is very entertaining taking photos of kids on a digital camera as they get to see the results immediately and think it’s hilarious to see themselves reflected back on screen. Then I proceeded to take photos of the birthday “girl” and “boy” and “our” family. This week I will go to the photography store in the centre of town and get copies printed out to give to everyone I took a photo of. Timorese pride photos of themselves as owning a camera is simply out of their reach.

Raphael and Virginia celebrate their 43rd and 21st birthdays respectively


"Our" family: Raphael, Joel, Virginia, Domingas, Joanico; Front row: Abina and Zalia; Absent: Atoby


Zalia, unknown boy, Atito, Bebe, Jenny, Abe and Abina

About an hour after the celebration began, the power went off and as the generator is currently broken, people scrambled around in the dark looking for candles to light. We decided it was a good time to bid goodnight. As we had also spent the night before with “our” family, I wanted to do my own thing tonight. I often feel very guilty about not spending more time with them but the need for privacy and time out, combined with feeling exhausted with living in Timor in general and the fact that family get togethers revolve around conversations between Raphael and Daniel, I shouldn’t beat myself up about it!

Before we could leave, Raphael insisted that we take a bunch of bananas with us which they had cut from a palm in their garden. They had originally done so earlier in the week with the intention of giving them to Daniel when he was sick. Domingas and Raphael had journeyed into town the previous Monday to seek Daniel out at the hospital as the day before I had told “our” family that he was sick with a virus. I didn’t expect them to take thirteen bananas to town in search of Daniel when he had already returned to work anyway! We tried to take only two of the bananas because after all, we are overfed Westerners and they are all, without exception, underweight Timorese. Moreover we can afford to buy our own bananas. But Raphael wouldn’t hear of it so we reluctantly took all thirteen home.

Back at home Daniel ate one of the bananas and said that it was very sweet (they are the equivalent of lady finger bananas in Australia). I replied that they would make a great smoothie with soy milk, something we have not been able to make due to the lack of an appropriate kitchen appliance and the often tart Timorese bananas. However, my colleague has a hand blender at her home in Ai-tarak-laran so I decided we would take them with us and enjoy daily smoothies until all twelve had been consumed.

We watched the last episode of Spooks season 3 that we have with us in Timor (while in Australia we sent the final DVD containing the last two episodes in the series back to Melbourne thinking we wouldn’t be able to watch it in Timor as I had damaged the LCD in the screen of our laptop). As another one of my favourite characters was written out of the series, and as Daniel fell asleep before the end, I was suddenly overcome with sadness at the possibility of leaving “our” family just when we were growing closer. Ever since our evacuation and our regular telephone calls to Raphael inquiring as to their situation, not to mention our arranging for delivery of food, “our” family have become noticeably more attentive towards us. I think finally after a year, they know that we care about them and many of the walls between us have been dismantled. It’s a lesson one learns from living here: it takes a long time for trust between malae and Timorese to take root.

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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