Café de Timor Leste

A scale weighs out coffee for purchase in Dili © Brie O'Keefe

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.

Brie O’Keefe

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The Road to Railako

Timor's mountains make car travel queasy © Brie OKeefe
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.

 

Brie O’Keefe

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The pig patrol

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. 

Brie O’Keefe

Survival tactics for the international messenger

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

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

Lunch in Liquica

The Church in Liquisa was the site of a massacre in 1999 ©Brie OKeefe
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.

 

Brie O’Keefe

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Sunrise

Sunrise in Dili ©Jo Barrett

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.

 

 

Brie O’Keefe

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Quiet Flights over War Zones

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.
 
Brie O’Keefe