Miguel Nia Hanoin

First Day at Lunch

In Manatuto, East Timor

9 July 2003 -- Manatuto, East Timor

Our first full day in Manatuto, and a quiet one indeed. I went over to the office -- in no particular hurry, I washed my clothes and hung them to dry in the house first -- around 9:30 and met Gaspar who proceeded to make space for me in his office by moving a white board, fastening it over the window (the only available wood framing in the otherwise cement room) by banging screws into the frame with a rock! Well, at least he's resourceful, but I should have thought to lend him my leatherman to screw the screws in.

We hardly talked and I spent more time making flash cards to improve my Tetun. Lunchtime came quickly enough and I went home to have my first meal with my new host family. It was a fun introduction to eating with them and I am looking forward to many more such meals. The older generation and whoever is around from the adult generation eats together, with one or two of the kids on hand to fill our water glasses with filtered water or to fetch more rice from the kitchen (a shack out side the houses). The dining table itself is rather conventional to Western standards, chairs (the plastic ones, ubiquitous here) for six and a tablecloth (used for one of its original purposes, to wipe one's mouth!).

The setting, on the other hand, is anything but familiar to Western eyes: the table is in between two houses covered by the tin roof from one; neighbor dogs scamper around the fringes of the table while the resident puppy terrorizes cats brave enough to come close or chases away the chickens scratching for some table scraps; of course bones quickly leave plates and find the nearest scavenging animal's teeth; a piglet snorts about ten feet away, impatient to have to sit through our dinner before receiving his; and various kids idle to and fro, adding their arguments and laughter to the general diner-time entertainment. I may accidentally extend my usually long eating time to enjoy the company of this family and the varied life it supports (or supporting it?).

I stayed the rest of the afternoon -- why go sit in an office and twiddle my thumbs? Later, Theresa and I ventured over to the Succo Chefe's [Village Chief's] house to introduce ourselves, as we should have done on our earlier visit to Manatuto. We had an interesting talk. I was impressed by his reasons for seeking funding for a community cultural center and Theresa was impressed by his ninja training shoes! I now forget his name, but Chefe Succo works just fine anyways. Regardless, his reason for a cultural center are similar to what we would expect back home: he is concerned that the younger generation will not know what distinguishes them from other Timorese, will loose the heritage the older generations preserved through word of mouth, will never learn the dances, weaving, and costumes unique to this valley. In the future, I hope to work more with him and learn a few distinguishing characteristics of this region's culture.

We returned to our respective houses for a restful evening.


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