A nun riding with her white habit under the motorcycle helmet. A soft gray blanket of cloud gathering on the dark and bruised hills above the city. The smell of burned grass ever present in the city, often a nice breeze running off the ocean.
Today I met up with a German anthropologist who is studying in the UK, currently doing fieldwork in the remote mountain town of Funar, which lies two hours walk from Laclubar. This is in Manatuto district, central mountain Timor. I think it’s near some of the towns Amerioca visited with nurses on horseback. This is the way the majority of Timorese live, when you look demographic patterns, aside from Dili the majority of Timorese live in a very disperse manner through the mountains. This is notable from the air, when flying in from Australia, because the zinc rooves are visible.
She helped me to basically officially abandon the attempt to discern group identity based on any kind of linguistic category. Here the term ethno-linguistic group is just a ruse. The Portuguese administration loved it, as is proven by the amazing Fontoura album from 1938. And the UN also seemed/seems dependent on it. There is no point in looking beyond self-identification when thinking of group identity here, because ritual authority and political authority are quite often overlapping, shared and extremely complex between two or more language groups. (The reason I have so clung to the issue of language, is because one of the groups I study has come to identify itself by its language group over the past 40 years.)
Docogirl showed up and told us about a hilarious run-in with one of hundreds of Cuban doctors now practicing in Timor. She had gone to film at the dust-bowl IDP camp set up across from the F-FDTL barracks in Metinaro, about an hour outside of Dili to the East. She had heard about the Cubans’ rather brusque manner, and indifference to their patients’ comprehension. And today, she witnessed the assembly-line activity firsthand. These doctors apparently listen to just the necessary amount of information and scribble off prescriptions incredibly quickly. No chat, no explanation. (To their defense, I remember meeting an Australian dentist here in 2003 who described her program as: arrive in town, wait for people to queue up and start pulling teeth like mad.)
I walked through the Liceu Antonio Machado, the first serious building the Portuguese dedicated to “higher education” in the 1960s. It was lavishly renovated by the Portuguese government in 2000, and is still well kept. Through the back part, coming through from the Parliament, I cut towards the tennis courts. No malais playing. I remember a time when by about 4-5pm there would be people warming up for a game before dark. Victorino, Mozambiquan tennis champion held court on these courts. Now it was a rag-tag group of Timorese kids, none older than 10 years old, with an eager young Timorese coach.
Before the courts is a rather nice basketball hoop. No net, but the rims are nice, and the court is level and uncracked. Nobody was there. The thought of shooting some hoops was really appealing.
I sorely miss Queen (of the Weekend), my partner in crime here in 2001-3. We used to go to Dom Bosco in Comoro and play with the neighborhood boys, I remember one in particular who we called “Dennis Rodman” – he had the jersey and everything. They were great sports, and mature enough to be able to play with us without a second thought. Dom Bosco is now full up with IDPs, I doubt there is the room or the patience for basketball!
I wracked my brain for anybody who can play basketball. I realize I really don’t know that many people here anymore. Living alone in Lecidere isn’t helping to build a “network.” (But then, neither is my aversion to the malai-magnet restaurants.) At night, it’s basically just TV, computer, kitchen and occasional chats with the security guards.
Tomorrow there was supposed to be a big rally, which was so hyped by the two daily papers, and by rumor on the street that it actually led to a mini-exodus from the city. This morning I overheard a funny conversation in Vila Verde on the street, two groups of ladies were talking about “tomorrow” and whether they would venture out, and on their parting one shouted to another, maybe I’ll just flee to Ataúro Island!
According to the two dailies and the international forces it has been cancelled. I think the biggest reason is because the Malai Boot (Big Foreigner), Ramos Horta is out of the country which is obvious because of the lack of security at the Palace. The organizers want to have leverage against Ramos Horta, but they also want the drama of the confrontation, and I suppose they want to give him a chance to respond in person to their demands. (Which are as of yet unclear: “democracy, justice, peace”.)
I need to start strategizing and planning to head to Baucau. Not only because that’s where my research is, but because Dili is just too heavy.