“The prisoner”

The water was like glass this weekend, it looked like the 35 nautical km to Atauro Island were entirely walkable. A gleaming flat surface, no waves, and a stripe of deep blue just under the island. To remind us that this trench – the straights of Ombay (mentioned in Moby Dick) – is one of the deepest in Southeast Asia. But it was so beautiful only nerds like me were thinking about how deep it was. Sundays in Timor, it seems, are the most peaceful day, not just because people are off the streets all morning, but in a natural sense. There is always more mist over the bay where the white sand beaches lie. I do not remember the last stormy or windy Sunday.

Biking my way to the beach, after repeated power outages and lost writing on my laptop, I passed a red Miata convertible. I couldn’t help but smile, breaking the stone face that I normally maintain on the road. Everybody cruises in Timor, up and down, at about 15 miles per hour, most in old vans or Landcruisers. But who ever this person was had it figured out. I can just imagine the joy with which this guy drove that sports car onto the barge for Timor.

I had my first beer at the Turismo, catching up with a friend, bitching about the farce of a justice system and noting that the cats there were actually quite healthy. No mange or jutting ribs. We were the only ones there, in that sixties-style garden, that kind of reminds me of that cult English show “The Prisoner” that my friend Rich introduced me to in our last summer in Providence. The light is low there, and the cats were bouncing around killing cockroaches in the islands of palms and weird cement sculpture between the tables. Another Saturday night in Timor.

The previous night, we stayed up til all hours attempting to dance to the strangest mix of music I have ever heard at a nightclub. There was bad Portuguese techno, salsa (which nobody knew how to dance to, a sad day), eighties New Wave, the least danceable Nelly and Destiny’s Child… But Poy Chollor, meaning “crocodile” in Fataluku, a language from Lospalos, is a one and only kind of place. Bought from Singaporan gangsters by an Indonesian-Australian woman and her Timorese partner, it has become (by virtue of not allowing any major fights and not over charging Timorese people) the longest-running nightclub of the past year. Previous clubs have been banned for UN and peacekeepers due to the violent feuds between bands of local youth and testosterone-cases from Africa and various Latin locales. Now, half of the parliament shows up on any given night, often the Prime Minister (with bored-looking entourage), ALL of the burgeoning gay community here, as well as foreigners from business, NGOs, the UN. It truly is a cross-section of Dili life. Of course, you realize that you basically know everyone, either by acquaintance, by reputation, or as a colleague or friend, and that is perhaps a little too claustrophobic if you are sober.

One last anecdote, the ‘sober’ part reminding me, there was a roadblock outside of Poy Chollor, set up by Timorese police. They were stopping every car to breathalize. Had I been driving, I would have been nervous. But our Driver was not scared, saying ‘ahh, by the time they would get around to prosecuting, we will all be back at home in other jobs.’ True enough. The funniest part was yet to come, when they asked our driver, ‘Are you okay?’ She said, ‘Yeah, are you?’ jokingly. Of course, at 3:30 am, I don’t think cops anywhere in the world take jokes very well. He took offense. ‘What have you been drinking?’ And Driver lifts a Coke. They wave us on! You would think the uproar of laughter from the back would have provoked them to stop us once again, but we would have been halfway to the lighthouse.


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