Small town blues

Monday was a kind of hooky day. I felt like lounging but then lounging meant sweating. Around four o’clock I went out to walk by the river. I realized this meant probably a greater violation of my peace than remaining at home in a pool of sweat but the river was calling me. The river was pretending to be “nature,” a place where I could go and sit and watch and listen by myself. And that would be just about any river in the world, but not here. I walked down the long street through Boramatan and only got a couple of “hello Mrs.”s and none bery derisive. I hit my stride. Began down the road as it runs parallel to the river towards Beobe. Still quiet except for a “Malay, blah, blah…” from the only grasshut along the road. I saw a little turn off into the river, almost like a launch. A good place to walk down to the river where a couple of women were bathing a couple of 100m up stream.

I wasn’t thinking, I was on a stroll. I was “passeiar”ing. I was going anywhere. But to the water’s edge. Which turned out to be right in the middle of the riverbed. Just as I began making a face at the tepid, dirty, lifeless water and decided to enjoy the breeze and the “nature” a boy up on the cliff downriver in Beobe must have spotted me. He began with the derisive “MEEEEEEEEeeeeeesssusss” Then launched into a staccato flurry of ‘Malay, malay, malay, malay…’ ‘Malay ba haris’… I don’t remember the rest and I was busy cutting my retreat straight back home. I never even saw the boy. It was as if there is some supernatural force which detects my movements and informs obnoxious people with nothing better to do so they can jeer and comment until I run home and slam the door. I have to say it’s a one of the more awful feelings I experience in Timor. It’s not the constant identification of me as other that bothers me. It’s the judgement, the constant comment and seeming disapproval for my every action. Oh, the malay wants to swim. Scandalous. Not allowed . The malay wants to drink some red wine. Malay woman? She’s a dangerous drunk.

Here in Viqueque I feel the weight of people’s judgement and comment, as I am one of a handful of Malay women (probably the only one ever caught walking outside the house). Perhaps equivalent to having elephantitis in smalltown USA. Like an enormous growth on my forehead. It is suffocating to the point of making me want to build my own castle. Either that or move to New York City and forget about these small-minded people. I can’t really imagine how people bear to live in a society like this, where every out of the ordinary action is savoured by the shit-talkers and rumor-mongers (a good majority of the population) like a precious sugar candy. Rolling it over and over across their forked tongues. When I think of how much energy is wasted on these comments and mob judgements of people, I realize that this alone is the mental energy needed to jumpstart this country. And the slow pace of development and this culture of negative comment are not unrelated. How can you encourage creativity and entrepreneurial spirit if anybody who sets themselves apart is torn down by the mob?

So I have become this recluse, waiting for a ride to Dili that will not come, resigned to waking up at 4am for the bus. Everything is running out, bug repellant, Enaak, peanut butter, my patience most importantly. I thought today could be a day for reflection, but really it has been bile-filled, sweat covered and forgettable. I’m just having trouble seeing things positively. Especially I suppose, in light of receiving Hermengildo’s help yesterday, and seeing what amazing, thoughtful, positive person he is, then realizing that any way I express my thanks or attempt to make a friendship with him will be entirely misconstrued. Once again, that feeling that friendships with Timorese are doomed. And that I am in self-imposed house arrest.


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