A scale weighs out coffee in Dili © Brie OKeefe
Yesterday was our photographer Marcus’ last day in Timor, and we spent the morning bustling about to get some last key shots before we deposited him on the plane, and got down to the busy business of transcribing and organizing the interviews we’ve done, recording the names we’ve met, backing up files incessantly before heading to Bali on Saturday. Through a small miscommunication, we believe we’re heading to Yayasan Hak, a local Human Rights NGO to take a photograph with Julinho, a survivor of the Santa Cruz massacre, and a medal given to him by the Timorese government for his involvement as a Youth in the struggle for independence. But we realise we’re going in the right direction.
- The mountains in Timor make driving a queasy experience © Brie OKeefe
Its day 6, and we’re zigzagging up a mountain in a taxi missing 2 sets of door handles on our way to Railako, a town in the districts outside of Dili. Although perhaps I should say mountains, as I lost count after climbing and descending 3. Always famous in my family for my queasy stomach, I’m currently resisting the urge to grip the dashboard with both hands as if to steady the car, or throw my head out the window to get more air. Even worse that the threat of being sick, I worry about the impression I would make on behalf of our organisation if upon arrival at the next interviewee’s house, I shoot out of the car and vomit before sheepishly making introductions.
Today on the way to an interview we saw something we’d only heard about: the pig patrol. Dili, it seems, has always been overrun with pigs. In a city with refugee camps and limited sanitation facilities, they presented a public health disaster. Enough was enough, decreed the government, and mobile slaughter units were created to round up and kills the pigs on sight. It was a disturbing sight, workers dressed all in yellow leapt from the back of a pick-up truck with long metal spears. Mortally (and inhumanely) wounded the pig so it would die (eventually), tossed it in the back of the truck and moved on. The whole process took approximately 40 seconds, and for a moment, just a moment, I got a glimpse of the brutality that lays below the surface in East Timor. It can become all too easy to kill, it seems, and there have been times in the history of every country, where human life has not been much more valuable that than poor pig’s.
In Dili, our interviewees greet us warmly, and allow us, for one or two hours, to intrude into their lives, pose them for photographs and leave with hopes more than promises – we will try, we say, to get the world to care. I’ve thought a lot about how to blog, or even how to write about what we’ve been told here, and the truth is I can’t, for now. I can’t write about them, their bravery, their tenacity, their honesty, as a hurried blog from my hotel room. Part of me wants to hold their stories in my heart forever, protect them, and keep them from the cruel and indifferent eyes of the world. But I know that isn’t what they would want me to do.
Gloria and her daughter are patient while waiting for the interpretor ©Brie OKeefe
As this visit has progressed, as we’ve moved from one person to another, and taken in their sorrows, their tears, their lives, I’ve noticed several survival tactics employed by my psyche that have helped me keep going. Continue reading
- The Church in Liquisa was the site of a massacre in 1999 ©Brie OKeefe
We’ve driven 2 hours outside Dili to the town of Liquica, site of a famous massacre, but also a district, like so many in Timor, of fishermen, farmers and families. We arrive in the full heat of the midday sun and are greeted by sleepy houses with roosters, pigs and children running about, palm wine and biscuits sold by the roadside, and the large church, where we’ve come to interview the local priest, and a survivor of violence on their experiences, hopes and dreams for Timor.
Sunrise in Dili ©Jo Barrett
In East Timor, I’ve been able to abandon my alarm clock for the sound of roosters crowing in the morning. That sound I previously associated with barnyard children songs and peter pan has now become forever entwined with the long lazy beaches, flowering trees, and imposing tropical mountains of the island of Timor Leste. While walking through the town on my first day, I noticed the crowds of preening, crowing birds on every corner, pecking their way throughout the city, and although I should have known what would happen, the symphony of cries, the pure cacophony that welcomed the dawn still surprised me at sunrise this morning.
When I left for Dili 2 days ago, it was hardly under ideal circumstances. Just 24 hours before my flight I had completed and submitted my graduate dissertation at my university in London, run a 10-kilometre fun run for charity and spent the early hours of the morning correcting a friend’s paper as he panicked about submitting a day late. As I boarded the plane, stiff, sore and exhausted, I felt that both my body and brain had turned to mush, and I wondered if I truly was prepared.
The Jesus Statue in Dili (Catherine Scott/Progressio)
Standing beneath Dili’s imaginatively named ‘Jesus statue’ you can see all the way along the coast and miles out to sea. At over 30ft, the imposing figure of Christ is Timor’s answer to Rio’s Redeemer and tells its own tales of Timor’s unsettled past.
This Jesus is a relic of Indonesian rule, and has all the scars to prove it. Arms outstretched, the imposing figure is in serious need of some TLC. He stands atop a spherical dome which doubles as a globe – though a number of the continents which once made up the grandiose world map have noticeably rusted and dropped off. The flood lights at each corner of the statue, which would have illuminated Jesus for miles around, have been ripped from their plinths. There is an air of sadness. It seems few visitors make the 15 minute trip to see Jesus anymore.
Yet, visit Dili Cathedral on a Sunday morning and it’s a very different story. From 7.30am crowds flock to mass and by the time we arrive at a quarter to eight we can barely get in the door. The pews are packed. Those who arrive late have to perch on the very edges of their seats. The stairwells are full; some people poke their heads around the main doorway; others sit on the floor. The sea of heads seems to go on and on into the distance.
“Dili? You must mean BALI” shrieked the woman sitting behind the Heathrow check in desk as she cast an eye over my travel itinerary. Nope, not Bali. “I am going to East Timor”, I explained. “It’s kinda near Australia”.
Kinda “near” Australia is probably an underexageration. Getting to Timor from London actually feels like a trip to the other end of the universe – it took me a whole 48 hours to get through three flights, an 8 hour stop-over in Malaysia and a night in Bali. Although this tiny island nation is just a stone’s throw from Darwin on a world map, it’s desperately inaccessible.
Which probably fuelled my relief as we finally shot down the runway at Dili airport at a rate of knots. I’d seen the sea creeping up from the plane’s window and had started to wonder if there was likely to be a runway in Timor – then suddenly it came into view, though the waves were almost licking the landing strip.
A man demonstrates how boats are traditionally made in East Timor. Photo: Nick Sireau/Progressio
Welcome to this (our first ever) post on our brand, spanking new East Timor blog! It’s going to be quite a ride from here to summer 2009 as we prepare, launch and run our latest Progressio campaign which calls for a ‘package of action’ to assist the world’s newest nation.
East Timor is now approaching a decade of independence – yet it is still one of the poorest countries in the world. In fact, this little island nation has had a rough time of it since Indonesian occupying troops pulled out in 1999. And it’s time for real change.
Join us on our journey by sharing your thoughts on this blog – we care about what happens to East Timor. Do you?