8 August 2003
-- Manatuto, East
It never ceases to impress me how little time to myself I
have each day, especially considering how little work I actually
have: perhaps it is just living with an engaging family of fifty-five.
Regardless the reason, my journal is woefully out of date, with
little chance of catching up.
In my last entry, I griped a bit about the Peace Corps' local
administration, perhaps too much so, because since then, they've
left me alone, and everything has been fine. I only hope the
communications from them stay as sparse as they've been the
past two weeks.
Since coming here, I've learned more about the history and realities
in East Timor through conversations with local people than I
ever could in any books -- though the books I've read have helped
to put a larger perspective on the stories. However, it is very
difficult to relate the stories, partly because they are pieces
of other people's lives I'm not sure I have the license to share,
but more simply because these stories are so vast, often second
hand, and the telling of them is so informal, that I could never
be sure of relating truth or fiction to the readers. But where
is the line between truth and fiction regarding an attempt to
rip asunder the land and people of East Timor?
Senora Lina's husband -- who was the drunken cause of the argument
mentioned in my last entry -- related to me the other day the
three times he was in Indonesian prisons because they thought
he knew something he didnít. He lied his way out after grueling
interrogations. Senora Isabel has mentioned several times how
the family ran to the hills during the '99 post-referendum militia
violence. The other day, Elias, Senora Lina's oldest son, talked
about the minimum food they had when hiding for a couple of
months in the foho (hills). His cousin, also named Elias, mentioned
how the men in his family ran to the hills in the west while
the women ran to the east, both groups thinking the family members
not with them were dead.
That Elias is a strange one, for every conversation we have,
he peppers with references to the gifts he's received from other
Westerners, such as the off-road motorcycle he has. Only occasionally
does he ask me for something like medicine. Asking for things
seems to be a prerequisite for any young man speaking with a
Westerner. Another relative of the family, Donico, and I have
talked a few times and he always asking if I can get him something.
The last thing he fixated on was a simple hat from America for
which he would trade a genuine Timorese Teis. That would have
been a nice thing to talk about from the start, and could have
been accepted as a genuine desire to trade momentos. But before
requesting a Columbia hat, he asked if I could get him a rice
husker (of which there are numerous around town already donated
by international NGOs), or a paddy plow; at least he wasn't
asking for money.
I never really take offense, and am not bothered much as no
one ever is persistent to the point of rudeness, but it telling
of the attitude cultivated by both the Indonesian occupiers
and the international donor agencies and NGOs since occupation:
both simple pumped millions of dollars worth of material, equipment,
food, clothing, medicine, roads, irrigation projects, and countless
other stuff into the local economy. As far as I can tell, much
of it made it into good hands, helping feed people in need and
give light to people without. But perhaps it's been too much.
We heard much talk about how people won't work without compensation,
and there does indeed seem to be an attitude of entitlement
here. However, there are also plenty of people doing real work,
in the rice fields, in the markets, on the roads. The older
people in particular seem to work pretty hard.