May 1 Update

Log Entry Location: East Timor

May, 2006

(N.B. This entry was written on April....and has not been edited in light of recent events.)

The second month in Timor (not quite fully 2 months yet) has flown by, mostly because I have been consumed with host family events….providing more than ample opportunity for classic participant observation…..and not enough time outside of Dili! I hope to make up for that when I return from my mid-term break.

Speaking of which….the biggest news for this entry is that I get to see DEAN (and my Mom, Mo, Lance, and possibly the CA contingent as well) NEXT WEEK! Yippeeee! It has been really hard to be here without him, partly because I miss him but also partly because Timor is OUR place. We are working on long-term plans to make sure we come back together next time.

The Vigil

Shortly before Easter, the patriarch in my host family, “Grandpa Branco” became very ill and was admitted to the hospital. He was 89 and had lived a very full life by any standards, and certainly by Timorese ones (where life expectancy is in the 50s). Over the next weeks, the huge extended family kept a vigil in his VIP room at the National Hospital. I fell into a rythym of accompanying them every night….arriving about 8pm and departing around 1 or 2 am. Some of his children (especially those without day jobs), stayed overnight, camping out on the tile floor outside his room.

From left to right we are: Tia Mena, Mae Linda (my Timorese “mother”), Tia Tiz, and Grandaughter Lola. Lola is Linda’s youngest daughter.

Some of his 22 (!) children and (50+) grandchildren in the Timorese Diaspora started arriving from Portugal, Australia, England, and Macau. Aunties baked cakes and brought them in. Grandchildren, cousins, and other more distant relatives stopped in for short visits. There were occasional dramas about getting permission to get back into the hospital after visiting hours were officially over (usually resolved easily by sharing our “dinner” of bread and margarine with the underpaid hospital guards). Inside the room, people whispered, prayed, and sang religious songs. Outside on the verandah, people gossiped, told stories, laughed, ate, and slept.

After a week or so, hope gave way to resignation….and then people started talking openly about hoping for an end to his suffering. Uncles started planning the funeral service. Adult grandchildren starting buying the funeral clothing and flowers. Many different family members told me about the Timorese belief that dying people will wait for their children to arrive before they let go. A day after the last daughter arrived from Australia, he passed away. Despite all the preparation and waiting it was, of course, a shock and a huge loss.

We were not at the hospital when it happened so I drove Dona Linda in once I received the news from her daughter. She had only left the hospital 2 hours earlier, after yet another sleepless night in his room. I was there she walked in the room…..and with the family through the next several hours of chaos, decision-making, and grief. I helped with removing all the camping paraphernalia from the room, walking the body to the funeral car, and driving in the procession to the house. Over the next several days, I was a minor participant (in role of “honorary grandchild”) in the wake, prayer services, and funeral mass preparations. I mostly just sat with the family….inside the main house….while they received distant family, neighbors, and honored guests, including the Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Ramos-Horta.

The Funeral Mass, Burial, and Dinner

The funeral service was held at 3pm on the Saturday afternoon before Easter and was a mix of traditional Timorese, Australian-Timorese, Portuguese and clearly novel cultural traditions. There were 150 members in the ‘official’ funeral party – children in black, grandchildren (including me!) and greatgrandchildren wearing black with white tops and black floral lapels. The mass was held in Motael, the big church on the seafront near the Lighthouse in Dili. After mass, we drove in procession from the church to the Santa Cruz Cemetery were important people (Prime Minister, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Interior Minister) laid wreaths on the grave.

Afterwards, we drove back to the house in the driving rain. After waiting for the biggest showers to pass, we dashed to the house to put the final preparations on the meal. During the mass, the daughters-in-law (and assorted cousins) had stayed behind to cook the massive meal. In keeping with Timorese custom, the raw ingredients came from family members around the country (cows from some, goats from others, rice from some) in specific proportions. Also in Timorese fashion, the meal was prepared for the honored guests and not for us. The family hovered inside, clearly relieved to have the public portion of the funeral over. Children played. Aunties joked. Sisters-in-law (aunts-in-law too) scurried back and forth with platters for the various (stratified) tables outside. People commented on how beautiful the ceremony had been (and how it had come off without a hitch).

After the last of the guests had eaten and departed, the family sat down to eat the leftovers. It was about 8 pm and we were all exhausted, drained, and smelly (we were all drenched in sweat at the burial). This photo (of two granddaughters who are about my age) was taken late that evening… everyone was beginning to get a little slap happy.

National University of Timor Lorosae

I have also started team teaching with Mestri Zacarias (pictured here at left end of horse-shoe) in the Community Development department at the National University. We are teaching an Introduction to Field Methods course. Our classroom, like most at the university is a burn-out shell, still unrepaired since 1999. The students are keen and ask good questions, even when my Tetun is a little less than perfect! Zacarias and I are working together to develop the syllabus and reading materials, both for this class and for the Field Methods II that he teaches in the other semester.

Field Visit to Bazartete

I did manage to make one “field” visit during this month – to the TL-1 site of Bazartete, in the hills above Liquića. This sub-district capital is a beautiful place, with stunning views of Dili and rolling hills beyond. I caught a ride with CARE once again and spent the whole day with the current Volunteer in that community. She was a great help – and introduced me to all the folks I wanted to see, including the village chief, sub-district administrator, local development officer, and the school principal. He’s pictured here, next to the village planning chart that he says is a direct result of Mana Sue (the original Volunteer) and her capacity building. Stories of her are everywhere in the town…she’s really almost a mythical figure. I happened to be there on market day so there was lots of activity.


In the last week or so, I have also managed to:

*Acquire a mild version of dengue (or somesuch tropical virus) – with fever, nausea, and generally feeling like I got hit by a truck

*Complete several days of an intensive Tetun class for “advanced” speakers (much to my surprise, I tested at the low end of “advanced” 2 weeks ago)

*Help Lili and her children pre-emptively evacuate to the hills above Dili (with rice, water, noodles, and, of course, kites)

*realize that I need a break…..and keep trying not to “check out” completely before I depart on March 3

The Troubles

Those of you that have been following BBC will know that there have been a few tense days in Dili. Approximately 1/3 of the Timorese defense force was dismissed a little over a month ago. They were protesting what they called discrimination. The government called them insubordinate. They’ve been staging (mostly) peaceful protests ever since. This week was different. They marched on government house four days in a row. On the fifth day, something seems to have snapped.

Everything is calm now and foreigners were never targeted…but rocks were thrown at government buildings, a few government cars were burned, and some thieves took advantage of the chaos to rob and steal. Most importantly, the Timorese were traumatized (again) and many ran away to the hills, to the US Embassy, and to various church compounds. The televisions news tonight (Sunday, April 30) broadcast a message of calm from the Prime Minister and then showed a very depressing montage of images of fleeing people, burning markets, and police officers crying in frustration. All the while, John Lennon’s “Imagine” was playing in the background.

The various explanations for all of this would be too long (and too boring) for this venue. Suffice it to say that Timor is still in transition and it is not easy moving from being a resistance movement to being a national government! It is sad and depressing….but that’s the reality to date.

More from Dili when I return in two weeks time……


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