Human dimension

Meeting ‘Zefa,’ a Timorese woman with clearly ‘Timorese’ facial features, an oblong face, large bright eyes and a thin sculpted nose but with an entirely Angolan color was something. She was quiet but not scared, coming at the request of one of the guys working at the priest’s residence.

She could not tell me very much, in fact we had trouble establishing the date of her birth, as she could only give the date in Indonesian and my numbers are no good in Indonesian. We finally established she was 35, but looks like she could be twenty-something. She told me her father brought her back here in 1971, and was killed only four years later by FRETILIN in Aileu. For her, Angola does not even exist in her memory. She remembers her mother’s name, but is even unsure of her city of birth. She was one of three born to her father and her Angolan mother. There are two (older?) brothers who her father did not bring with him, leaving them with their mother in Angola, Maria da Conceição.

She told me her god mother — step-mother brought her up from the age of seven, when they fled into the jungle and her father was killed. She asked whether I might meet her mother in Angola. I said I cannot promise, but I might try to do and find her family. I explained to her my interest in her story, that I found it dramatic and compelling to see a family created and torn apart by the Portuguese empire. I don’t think she knew what I meant, but I don’t think she questioned my good faith. There was this peace about her, as she said that she was accepted here just like any other Timorese, and that she married and has four kids. There seems to be not even a question in her mind about her identity, but perhaps this is only a superficial impression. What if she gets home tonight and thinks about her biological mother the whole night? In some way I couldn’t help but feel a voyeur and an intruder, as someone who can show up and ask questions for my own ‘interest’… questions which have the potential to stir u pstrong feelings and sadness in somebody else. In hindsight I should have told her there was no chance I would go to Angola. But seeing her and realizing the huge human dimension of the Angola experience made me want to go there even more, seeing Zefa made me think that Angola is a piece of the puzzle like Uatolari alike Uatocarbau and Baguia and Kupang. And after all it was the Angola connection which compelled me to study the rebellion in the first place.

She did not seem to hesitate or be embarrassed excessively when I asked to take her photo. So I took two, saying (and it’s true) that if I ever go to Angola, I will take these to her mother. It feels so strange, being the arbiter of someone’s destiny like this. That I might be the only the only person on earth who can show a mother her daughter and vice-versa. But really this is the power that anybody with a Northern passport and a credit card has. We just don’t think of it that way. We don’t normally put ourselves in these situations.


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