The trouble with normal

After three days here, I think what has most disturbed me is how “normal” the situation here has been made mostly by international people. What do I mean by that? It seems Timorese people have not lost a sense of sadness, shock, disappointment and anger over what has happened to the city. But the humanitarian and “peacekeeping” community seems to work under a completely different Cartesian logic.

Scared urban people who refuse to go home? Ok: “Displaced peoples”. So, register them. Give them tents, jerry cans, food supplies. Hell, even hook them up to the electrical grid. In the trouble spots, throw some floodlights over them and send helicopters over every night in regular intervals to check up on the situation. Elaborate, regularized flight plans.

This foreign view of “intervention” seems to have been transmitted to the Timorese government, which seems to believe that signing attendance rosters is keeping things “normal.” What’s more, Department of Labor and Solidarity statistics apparently show that over 90% of the district of Dili is “displaced” and receiving aid, which is not only impossible. Even if it were possible, how can this situation be acceptable? Ramos Horta seems to have given up on his pledge to have the camps emptied out by late September. What exactly is the end game here?

Has it ever occurred to DPKO and UNHCR that this situation is basically unprecedented in the history of “peacekeeping”? Never has the population of a capital city collectively moved to the nearest park and street corner, often a stone’s throw from home, and begun to call itself “refugee” — earning the moniker “displaced people” and everything that comes with it. This is a city of fear-inspired Hoovervilles which are being endorsed and sponsored by international humanitarian aid! Not since the feeding and housing of the militias responsible for the Rwandan genocide in Congo in 1995 has the “humanitarian apparatus” lost its purpose like this.

Is it also acceptable and normal that gang warfare including the use of machetes, potentially lethal metal-tipped arrows and blunt metal objects spreads through the city like a contagion, and all politicians and the UN can seem to do about it is talk about “reconciliation” and keep the night sky buzzing with helicopters? (Which by the way have to keep flying anyways because many pilots only get paid for days they fly.)

What is needed is good intelligence on the ground, to infiltrate these groups, get evidence, find out who the people are inciting the violence, and bring them to swift justice. Let people see that this is NOT normal, NOT acceptable and that the government is taking dramatic and swift measures to deal with it in cooperation with the UN. Instead the ema ki’ik (little people) are seeing their ema boot (big people) seemingly incapable of doing anything but letting the international community bring their “displaced” logic to the situation.

Few people are out after about 6:30pm. Last night, on what I believe to be the main commercial and social block in Dili, in Lecidere, during a twenty-four minute period, I counted 7 cars passing, and 5 motor bikes. (With DVDs, sex and sleeping, the international community seems ok with nighttime lockdown — as long as the beach is still safe during the day. “Hell, it’s not Haiti,” one UN staffer coming from Port-Au-Prince told me.)

The security guards here say that when their shift ends at 3am, they cannot convince anybody to come get them in a car or motorbike, so they have to walk home alone through the city, which fills them with dread. For them the situation is anything but normal.


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