Aaron Konta Estoria

From East Timor

Chocolate at the Market

22 August 2003 -- Nattarbora, East Timor

A few days have passed, not much has changed. It is 10:20a.m., and I'm swinging in the hammock with Jimmy's voodoo plugged in my ears. The ducks, chickens, and pigs still wander all about being pushed by nature's chaotic reasoning. It takes me a while to reorient myself to you through this rambling libation. It is similar to waking up from a deep, thick dreaming to wonder where you are. Moments of uncertainty while reorienting. Finding my way to you happens in reverse. I am currently sleeping in a reality not my own. It is the Timor people's culture and their reality. I reorient to you by falling awake into a deep, thick dreaming to find my reality. Your eyes, from our world, looking across the miles of sky to Susan and myself. "What's it like there? What do we do every day?" you've asked. Enter; my dreaming; together.

I am lying on my back in the 5:30am darkness. Encased in our mosquito net, earplugs in against the rats and mice. Susan has been stirring and so I am awake knowing she is too. I can't recall, but I say something soft to her. She snuggles in a tighter fit. I hear mumbles. Removing the earplugs, I ask her what she said. "Its market day." Whisper. I snug her in closer yet, and we lay listening to the morning wake up with us. The cockadoodldooing chickens echo each other, domino-ing down the village from one house to the next. Our host family's 4-yr old is whimpering to her parents hushing. We snuggle, and I say that I don't want to go to the market. Susan responds to her man's little boy voice, "but honey, if we get to the market before 6:30 there will still be some chocolate." I snuggle my forehead into the side of her neck and say, "good, then we can stay in bed for another 30minutes." There is no chocolate at the market or anywhere on the south side of the island and we know this, but on our bike ride to the market all I talk about is the chocolate I am going to buy when we get there.

We ride along a paved road in the morning's dawn. The road cuts through open spaces of tall grasses and occasional banana trees. There are plantations out there beyond our sight connected to this road by dirt-paths and rutted, dirt roads. The plantations are planted with survival food. Manioc, rice, corn. Meaning, our twice-a-week market is rarely exciting, but our arrival always sends a noticeable pulse throughout the crowd. We dismount and lean our bikes against a closed shop front. It has been two months living in NTB but everyone still stares at us like they have never in their lives seen a white person before. Granted they have never had a white person living in their community before, and many have never seen whities before Susan and I, but it is too early in the morning for me to forgive them their innocence. A little girl stands on the edge of the crowd, dropped jawed, eyes like a doe fixated on me like I am the walking dead. I glare at her because I can and I know this will make her turn and cry, running for her crowded mother. Which it does, and immediately I wish I hadn't done that. Everyone else seems to think it was funny though, so I disregard my regret and walk into the eyes pretending normalcy.

While Susan and I are at the market normal is nowhere. We are tall and white and weird. We stand above them, juxtaposed and holding secrets to wealth, health and happiness. Not to mention the way Susan and I talk to each other. Foreign sounds from foreign bodies, from foreign lands. They routinely say we are beautiful, smart, so strong and rich. However, their presentation of awe never prevents them from pointing and laughing at us when we say something silly or incorrect in Tetun or when we trip, move, or gesture in some uncustomary way. But now look at them, just look at them. Squatting on haunches in front of a stained burlap bag which lies on the dirt and damp with manioc tubers and leaves on top. Old women and men peppered throughout smoking homegrown tobacco rolled into a leaf of cornhusk. Short people with brown skin, most have straight hair, some kinky, everyone's is black. All of them speak Bahsa Indonesian, Tetun, and Tetun Teric. As we pass by they switch from Tetun to something else letting us know roughly what, or rather whom they are talking about.

We issue out somewhere around 1000, "bondias" on market mornings. With every "bondia" given, we receive a "bondia Senior" or Senyora in return. It really is ridiculous. Like walking into a festival in America and saying, "hello" to everyone, and not to just the random people you happen to know. This morning I am trailing Susan like a moping and bashful child. I am aware that this is what I am doing so when she pushes the coin purse on me and tells me to "go on and buy some vegetables," I buck up to my 33-yrs and go buy... a cucumber? "Well I'll be damned, something else that is not normal." It is the first time I have seen a cucumber at the market! And there is more. We move and find tomatoes and lettuce. It is the first time in two months we have been able to buy these basic but good things in Natarbora. So we load up for about $1.50 and talk about the salad we are going to make.

Are you dreaming with me? Following the line of sight, your eyes from our world, looking across the miles of sky to Susan and myself? I am trying, but I really have no idea if I am good at illustrating dream worlds with words. Someday Susan and I will wake up from this place and find ourselves back in our culture, our world, perhaps sitting in a funky Seattle coffeehouse with you. When that day comes, we'll bring snapshots to add to this vagueness. However, until then this rendering of words will be the only window into our dream world. So lets go back to the market. Susan and I are talking about our salad. I have forgotten about my chocolate, and we have begun an excited search for new vegis.

It doesn't take us long to wander through the 20 or so pieces of stained burlap with vegetables on them. These basic "good things" are just one step above the normal survival food we find here, but regardless we are excited. Remember we load up for around a buck-fifty and talk about the salad we'll make. Buying hoodi (bananas) on our way back to the bikes, my eye catches the cucumber lady again, but for the first time seen. Haunched, smoking her cornhusk cigarette, her kinky hair afroed and dishevled, rising more than reaching. The smoke curls and talons through her hair before losing its grip and rising free into the air. She sends me a few toothed smile stained red from chewing the beetle nut. The morning light is gray-blue to match her tobacco smoke, and I decide I've got to try and trap that still frame flicker of a moment on film. But the moment passed, she saw me coming so when I quickly squat down to take her photo she placed herself properly hiding the cigarette and her smile.

Where is the line between past and present? Are dreams envisioned in the past, present, or future? Deja vu: a vision seen in the past to take place in the future when witnessed presently? "Wow! I've seen her before, I mean...I've been here before in this space and time." She looks at me and I can tell she is reading my thoughts. Spooky. I turn and find Susan and hear her laughing at my leaving so suddenly. Days happen randomly and random things happen daily, just like this deja vu, just now. The only difference is most people have not yet begun their day, it is still morning time and early at that, and most people are in bed, asleep, and dreaming...

A little story of this world for our world to read, ain't the internet grand?


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