Walking around Viqueque this afternoon, I had this unusually relaxed, nostalgic feeling. Maybe it came from watching the teenagers play basketball and soccer, a moment which made me experience an intense sensation of having lived a past life, a sense of removal from myself as a kid, a school-goer…. This ineffable feeling of age, of passing, or having passed to some new, older part of my life. Almost unknowingly. When was my last basketball game? Did I recognize it as such? When was the last time I pounded a rubber ball against the ground? It must be at least six years.
I spent probably 12 years intensely occupied with group sport. It was my weekday, my weekend. It provided the stuff of daydreams and dreams of fame and respect. I used to shoot hoops at the basket behind our house, often a kind of meditation, or maybe stress-release. Also a way of aleviating boredom. I would shoot, make up competitions with myself, practice moves to the hoop. I used to dream of making the Olympic team. At age 23, that feels so far away. I thought to myself today how much fun it would to teach those girls some of the drills and skill-improving techniques we learned. I desperately wanted something to link the enthusiasm, the sense of community felt then with the loner of the present. Somebody who has trouble explaining myself to those around me, who feels no sense of ambition, who even has no back alley hoop to take refuge at.
Something about the light, the kids playing in the dirt, the friendly competition, an inclusion of all ages, reminded me of my summer camp in Missouri. A feeling of a kid-generated utopia, and reveling in that hour before dusk, where grown-ups did not interfere. I stood watching the soccer match, pleasantly unmolested and free of commentary. It was a true sense of calm, and a stirring of feelings I had forgotten, or neurons that had not fired in years. It was not a feeling of homesickness or even of loneliness, but a feeling of age. The weight and irreversibility of life. Like a sigh that has been released. But a sigh that was unexpected, provoking the question, how did I get this tired?
This side of town is very pleasant. Wide, open streets in more-or-less a grid, with a couple of superfluous roundabouts constructed around Portuguese monuments. The bulk of ‘good’ houses — either Portuguese or Indonesian — appear to be on this side. Many obviously well-cared for, with plants, furniture inside and out. The market is on this side, as well as the electrical authority, which has managed to keep the power on from 6pm to 12 pm. The church is here, and more than anything seems to be a center of sport and youth activity. The clinic and hospital occupy the high ground above the entrance to this side of the city, and seem to be quite cool. Entering this past of town, on the right, above and surrounded by thick stone walls is the Administrator’s compound. There are ruins dating back from early this century.
In front of this building, Indonesia constructed a seemingly expensive monument of marble and gold-leaf, with an extremely high pedastal. A large eagle, or garuda, peering over the whole town. One wonders if this could have been effectively used as a spying device. I have been told by shy but curious loitering girls (sometimes the best informants) that this monument was never fully finished. Explaining I suppose its total state of disrepair, and filthy, weedy appearance. As with many Indonesian monuments, now that the first 10 on the base is full of strange, amateurish graffiti, it was has only one public utility — a goat pasture. Because the goat shit. At the apex of this triangular property, at the entrance to the town, just below the hospital, is a crudely manufactured cement rendering of a liurai warrior freeing himself from the shackles of Portuguese colonialism. The like of which I’ve seen in Dili, but on an incredulous larger scale. Onlookers told me this statue, I pity the person who shares the resemblance, is meant to commemorate the rebellion on 1959. Just after this statue and before the Garuda is some kind of Portuguese cornerstone, marker seeming to commemorate the reentry of Portugal in 1948 to Viqueque. Beyond that are some foundations and ruins which the goats are slowly kicking over, so in the triangular space of the monuments, which is as recent of as the 1990s, there appear to be a couple of layers.
Between the church/sports complex and the river to the East-Northeast is the market. It appears to occupy the same location as in Portuguese times, as there is an old Portuguese building on the inside. The feeling in the market is not that hostile or derisive, but pleasantly unconcerned and oblivious. Past the market, a large steel bridge across the river leads the way to Beassu, the ‘port’ of Viqueque. Staying on this side of the river, following it out of town, within five minutes, you are in a town of very little cement. Just palm-thatch and corrugated metal. No rock foundations. The countryside.
The mood in town is calm to the point of feeling deserted at times. Groups of people congregate at certain key locatiosn around the church, CIVPOL station, of course the market. Walking on the streets one might pass a handful of schoolkids, or a couple of teenagers or a mom walking with her baby. In front of the Chinese store (which faces the soccerfield) I met an old Chinese man who said he was not here in 1959. He did not reveal why, just that he had not arrived from Macau yet. Inside the teenage manager of the store replied to this question, oh, he was sent as a convict in 1962. OUR family has been here since last century he said. As if to say there are real Chinese Timorese and then there are degraded ones like that old man. Girls often approach me on the streets and ask what I am doing. Boys and youngmen keep a comfortable distance sitting with their boot-cut jeans and long lanky bent legs.
The old town of Viqueque is a Portuguese invention, this grid of roads and cluster of houses with foundations in an extremely arid region overlooking a small river. The houses were built with forced labor originally at the turn of the century. Most were intended for liurai to come and inhabit, or host guests from their sucos. The idea was to encourage an easier way of surveillancing the activities of the liurai. But obviously the liurai were disinterested in having their people come all the way to this previously unimportant place. So they feel into disrepair, literally began crumbling. The Portuguese once again gave subsidies and encouraged the maintenance of the buildings, and it seems as the crtiical mass of Timorese civil servants grew, as did the number of Portuguese (read:Missionary) educated liurais, occupying these buildings in the district capital began to make more sense. After all, people began to collect their pensions or pay checks here, gather mail or news from Dili, etc.
It seems that the sede fits into one traditional (or modified?) suco named Caraubalo but that very closely borders other sucos incluinding Uma Ki’ik. Apparently a suco is not so much land now, as the family groups that together comprise a political entity, at least in the present. So when I ask where is Uma K’ik (pointing one way or another) people say, ‘All around. It used to be that way (pointing South) but now we’re all mixed together.’ This could have been a consequence of Indonesian policy, it’s hard to know. The language group here is Tetum-Terik. There are Makassae to the North (towards Ossu) and Noheti to the East and Southeast. It seems plausible that another reason the Portuguese chose this area is that it was Tetun-speaking, and its tie to the kingdom of Luca, which was quite famous to the Portuguese during their occupation of Lifau.
Viqueque town also occupies a crtiical middle ground between the fertile Noheti lands of Uatolari and Uatocarbau, and the cool highland sucos of Ossu, where the Portuguese fancied themselves safe from malaria. That and the route to Ossu also leads to Dili. In keeping with a divide-and-conque mentality, also, but also a more pragmatic balance of power approach, as was done in many colonial situations with three groups, two traditionally battling each other, and a more peaceful, weaker third, the Portuguese picked the third to be their hosts. That way the other two were forced to articulate their interests and work through a ‘neutral’ party.