Silence in the car, this feeling of reverence perhaps for the cool clear afternoon. Not much was said. Just sat, staring out of the window, past the still-standing stage from independence celebrations, past the diligent Japanese engineers (wearing their UN blue helmets like no other peacekeeping force), past the Timor police shooting range, past the deserted junction at Tibar wear the indonesians used to search every car leaving Dili. Over numerous gray-gravel riverbeds. A blur of palm trees, palm-thatch huts, lined up bottles of tua palm wine, Xanana posters and dusty football fields. Everything crisp and dry. The hills coming closer and receding from the road, and the green layer above in the mountain interior. The sea also teases, coming up right to the road in parts, and then receding behind 10m tall mangroves and mudflats.

The moment one leaves Dili there is this strange heightening of the senses, one begins to truly see things, notice people and children. The clothes are more worn and dirty. The dirt is truer, not that flithy lint-colored kind in the gutters and streets of Dili. It’s redder, deeper, more seeping. More biological.

Looking at the variety of trees, picked over for firewood and fruit, I realize that I know very little about the biology of this place. I recognize that the landscape is far more “australian” – red earth and eucalypts – than one would expect for a tropical island. There is a diversity of different palm trees, short squat ones with big fan-shaped leaves that fall about, big tall coconut palms, and a combination of the two. There are large banyan trees creating shade with their hanging natty hair. There are all kinds of other trees like the one will beautiful softgreen fronds, that flowers red in November, in time for all souls day and the commemoration of the Santa Cruz massacre.

And the birds, which have been said to have been decimated by napalm and over-hunting during the resistance, survived. There are tawny-reddish hawks with meter-wide wingspans, seen in the hills near the water, taking advantage of the coastal thermals. Various smaller cousins, and dove-related birds. Then the seabirds, with their beautiful long necks and feet.

The tide was extraordinarily low due to the full moon yesterday, and people were out on the normal covered coastal flats, poking around for stranded crabs and fish with the egrets. The day was a fortuitous, and not that “Saturday” means anything to the people living there, but there was a feeling of leisure and enjoyment in the groups of waders. Children, older men, women, everybody was involved, with a feeling of free, individual and social aspect to the collection.

After winding around curves between the hills and the ocean for maybe half an hour, we decided on a beach that probably had enough water to swim. We climbed across the rocks to a small cove with deeper water. We were still barely floating above old corals and sea plants in the low tide. Towards the end of the day a group of dolphins passed, swimming fast on to better fishing area.

There was nothing stunning about the day. It was just clear, cool, and calm. A tremendous sense of calm. The car was equally quiet on the return. We just sat and watched the same scenery go by, with very open eyes. The shadows and light in the harbor at Tibar, the way the water below was already in shadow, and light came across the red hills above, against the purple clouds above, this was silent.

I realize that I’m not interested in “studying” the people or the way of life here. I’m not particularly capable of helping people create buffers from the same wavering poverty that they have always known. More than anything I would like to appreciate this current moment. Appreciate the small moments of peace, the peace that people feel in their lives at the present. The peace that they may receive by recounting the past. The peace they may receive by merely being. Maybe that is too selfish; maybe Timor has made me more selfish. But I think it has just made me think more about the value of life, the value of freedom to decide, the value of the privileges I was born with.


May 21, 2002

I just wanted to share this moment of joy. Today I woke up in an Independent East Timor. Four years ago, East Timor’s plight represented for me the plainest example of the callousness, cynicism and injustice of the media, of politicians, of the mystical “international community”… it was a source of a sort of bitter personal awakening for me at age 18.

Now I can say, that while living in East Timor for 9 months has only deepened for me the complexity of the words “justice” and “independence,” I can see today as the truly emotional and unforgettable day that it is.

Independence was achieved at the sacrifice of over 200,000 lives. I have friends here who are literally “orphaned” — losing not just their nuclear family, but their ENTIRE extended family to the conflict — while the world turned its back. Independence is perhaps also consequence of invisible macro-economic forces, of perfect timing, of small but acute pressure by activists and politicians in key countries around the world.

And no matter how bogged down any independent country becomes in irritating and mundane politics, I can verify that this moment of Independence: to believe and know in your heart that you are no longer subject to an aggressive foreign occupier, is too profound to describe. Only three years ago, in this country, you could not walk at night. You could not drive 9 km out of town to the beach without passing a belligerant army checkpoint. Women were harrassed and raped or taken as warbrides. People were not allowed to speak their own language. They were taught Indonesian propoganda in schools, and frightened by irresponsible and even malevolent doctors and medical clinics.

Today is truly a day to celebrate. I think it is a universal human emotion, the feeling of release and euphoria that accompanies this day! Strangely, these feelings have taken many of us by surprise even though we have been working and building up to this day for nearly seven months.

I wanted to share this moment with you all, my friends and family, because I know sometimes you may have been perplexed by my interest in East Timor. I hope that you can share a part of these feelings with me.

In the words of President Xanana Gusmao, let us celebrate:

“Independence! As a people, as a territory, as a nation! One body, one mind, one wish!”

Viva Timor Lorosa’e!
Viva Liberdade!

How long does it take before you unconsciously muffle yourself? When you stop noticing things around you like colors, crazy people and sick children. They say sometimes only 5 weeks, then you begin to stop being an observer and you just start living. I somehow convinced myself to write for about 5 months here. then at some certain stage you prefer to do ANYTHING but think about yourself. Think about your reasons for being here.

I began stretching every morning a little over a month ago. I take small solace in knowing that my lower lumbar muscles are being taken care of, that I’m able to add a small routine to my day. But there’s this profound fear that I’m becoming stupid. That my lack of creativity, my lack of production in writing and otherwise is rendering me one big figurative fat cell.

How do I wake myself up to begin writing again? Maybe I should approach it as stretching. Things I don’t notice anymore. I don’t romanticize my life. In fact everything has become disturbingly comfortable in comparison to the beginning. Then it was an adventure, and I could thumb my nose at all of those over-consuming assholes from the UN. Now I’m not one of them, but I feel lacking a sense of purpose. But if the poor me of November could here the me of now complaining about having more than enough in the bank and 7 months at UN Agency…

I am truly boring. Need to find interesting people/things to do.