Around Manatuto, East Timor

September & October 2003

Learning With Freedom

Over the last several months, I've had the opportunity to take part in, or rather observe a variety of interesting activities around my little town of Manatuto. Often, I'm specifically invited to come and "hasai foto" (take pictures) to help people write reports and send them back to their funders. Such was the case for the first set of photos, when a project coordinator asked if I could help her group out by taking pictures of the literacy classes in action. I was happy to oblige her, but little did I know that it would prove to be an inspiration to me: seeing adults, grandparents and parents, together with their children, learning how to write their names for the first time, indicates that the light of independence, finally, freedom from two oppressive regimes, has translated into a desire by some people, to learn an essential skill of life in the 21st century.

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    Mother Learning to Write Her Name       Intergenerational Learning       Sra. Adriana Teaching       Classroom  
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    Diligently Learning       Night Class  

Orien Tasi?

The girls had mentioned something like orien ocean, and I couldn't figure out what they were talking about. School was about to start, and Mikaela was starting high school. She was all excited and had some kind of a dunce cap that she took to school each day. "Tasi" is Tetun for ocean, but I couldn't figure out the orien part.

Then I rode by the high school grounds and saw kids standing in a circle, with some normally dressed, older students, directing younger kids to do things like pass a cooking from one person to the next using nothing but mouths. All well and good, and then I heard Gaspar, my would-be counterpart organizing water for these initiates so they would clean out the new administration office. Great plan, then I remembered the human feces spread around the old administrator's house, and wondered if they would really clean this up too. Carlos complained that the government was using the poor kids, but I figured as long as no one was hurt or humiliated, its all fun.

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    Waiting for their Assignment       Finished       Witch?       Wave  

The human feces are still there, and accumulating.

New Administrator

Manatuto received its new administrator on October 20th. This was a long awaited event, one the town was happy to celebrate. As with just about everything, there was a fair amount of confusion in the timing of the event: as recently as the Friday before, I'd been told by people in the government that the new administrator wouldn't come to work till January; we had also been told to expect him the week before. However, someone must have known the actual expected date, for the building was all prepped and cleaned, a tarp set up for dignitaries and important townsfolk, the traditional flag corps was practiced and even tebe-dai girls were on hand to greet the new administrator with a dance.

Unlike the acting district administrator -- who had confided to me that she really wanted to be back in Dili but was somehow stuck out here in this little, unappreciative town -- Senhor Elvino Boneparte do Rego was a native son of Manatuto, and had even held a position on the board of the local community radio station. This was a good sign that the people in Dili were learning from past mistakes (I'd heard of one sub-district administrator, appointed to a distant community, being told by the people he was intended to lead, to go home and never come back). Of course, the process, as witnessed from the ground floor where I was, didn't exactly appear fair. The aunt of my family, and several other people she knew, had applied for the position. After the first round of interviews, they were told to wait, and they would be told of the next round to be held in Dili. Well, a small piece of paper was apparently posted in the district office the day before the interviews, and the three preferred candidates told in person. So the bureaucrats in Dili picked from those favored three. Favored by whom? I'm not quite sure of the answer, but I think it was other people from the Dili government who came out to interview people in the district here. I remember sitting with Sra. Lina, going over good answers to potential questions interviewers might ask. She would have made one heck of a district administrator; she would never have let anyone rest on a job half done, and would have given Dili hell every time they screwed things up. Dili never would have stood for that if they could help it, and of course Lina died shortly after the new administrator took office, but the principal still stands.

Regardless, the internal administrators in Dili picked a man that people seem to feel will represent their interests, and they feel comfortable with him -- that says a lot. May be some time next year, or the next time around, the community would actually have the democratic right to choose their own administrator. (We were told the national government would promote district-wide elections in November, but as I write this, in January 2004, there is no sign of these ephemeral elections.)

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    Approaching His New Post       Invocation       Anna Posura  
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    Addressing the Crowd       Cut the Cake       A Toast  

Cultural Festival

To celebrate the diverse cultural heritage of the sprawling Manatuto District, the education department sponsored a festival bringing together musicians from each of the six sub-districts. In concept, it was the initiation of what will hopefully be a tradition of sharing and living the arts as experienced in different regions. It got off to a difficult start, with most of the crowd gathered at six o'clock, waiting patiently while important dignitaries were shuffled off into a room to eat their specially prepared dinner (the rest of the crowd, including me, had no dinner that night as they had thought an even scheduled from 6:00 - 10:00 would provide food); I heard only a few grumbles about the special treatment. After this slow start, the musicians and crowd really began a great celebration. Most acts were variations on the same theme: a fiddler and four or five guitarists picking out the tune to an old Portuguese song while a few young men and/or women sang out words in the language of their former colonizer. Many people in the crowd actually new the words, and a few people even understood them. After each event, a small presentation of a wrapped up guitar or fiddle was presented to the sub-district administrator who in-turn, presented it to one of the performers. This went on for a while, and I had fun watching the crowd, and sitting with the children up front.

At one point, I had a sudden realization that I was acting very inappropriately: I was sitting on the ground with children! Any grown-up with self respect around here wouldn't dare sit on the ground, and certainly not with a bunch of kids. Anything "emma boot" (important people) can do to separate themselves from the masses, they do. To rectify this egregious offense, I asked one of the little boys if I could sit in his little chair. Of course, due to years of training that "malaes" (foreigners) are to be obeyed, he quickly relinquished his chair and I enjoyed the rest of the show, respectfully sitting in a kids' chair. I would have to watch myself more closely in the future, but I was glad not to have been in the group of emma boot who ate a private meal while the crowds sat waiting patiently outside.

The whole even went off fairly well, and perhaps no one noticed my faux pas At the end, the administrator of the school district gave a rambling speech about the importance of preserving our culture, first in Tetun and then in Portuguese. The audience received the first part well enough, but his switch to Portuguese initiated a mass exodus of a hungry audience making for whatever food they had at home. I wanted to join the departing many, but stuck with the remaining few and was lucky to see a performance of a very formal Portuguese dance, one Carlos, our resident Portuguese, tells me people no longer know back in Portugal.

It was a full celebration of culture, replete with its contradictions, classism, and memory of the past.

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    Cultural Festival       Instrumentalists       Spectators  
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    Strings       Trio       Patient Crowd  


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