Ok there is officially only one politician I still like in East Timor. It’s Yoda, Xavier do Amaral, whose party is called ASDT, which is actually the original name that FRETILIN took in 1974. He adopted this name for his party in 2001. (For background on the politics, please read earlier entries in this blog dedicated to him!)
The guy is amazing. Starting last night, there has been a growing camp of his supporters outside his house. They are staying on the nice patch of grass next to the ocean in front of his (relatively small) compound. The door to his compound is wide open, with a couple of men trying to keep an eye on the crowd.
Last night there was a live band there, playing typical Timorese music, but then a couple of songs with an accordion with a bit of Forró flare. There were not that many people there yet, but camps were already set up. There was a little muted drumming going on closer to the beach.
Today I woke to the sound of gongs and drums, it was carrying up from the beach about 200m away. The dancing started at the crack of dawn. Clearly the UN does not trust Xavier, or maybe their pilots wanted something new and interesting to fly over, because the whole morning, there were helicopters circling.
I had lunch at the “local” restaurant next door to Fundação Oriente ($1.50 for tofu, veggies, rice, noodles and ice tea). The place was very interesting, I think I will be going everyday now! Because the crowd was nearly all young people, 20 and 30 something mestiços and Chinese-Timorese, there was a nice atmosphere. A couple of flaming Timorese guys, with their fabulous (for lack of a better word) fag-hag girlfriends. Many of the people I swear I recognized. Most I think used to work for their parents in the various restaurants around town.
I decided I could not contain my curiosity any longer, I had to see the scene at Xavier’s place. I walked down to the waterfront and saw that there were two tebe dance/drum circles. The hypnotic sound of the gongs and the babadook, small drums in the middle of the group, surrounded by men with the rooster feather headdresses. Many were wearing the tais weaving sarongs. There were betel nut juice stains everywhere.
I was the only malai there except two Malaysian police and an Australian soldier. I couldn’t help but snap away photos. I’ve seen these events in 2001, and again in 2003. This is ASDT’s National Congress, and they had set up bamboo structures for the delegates from most of the districts. They had nice laser-printer labels tacked on them, and backpacks hanging from the back “wall.” Party officials had photos IDs hanging around their necks. I met a thirteen year old girl who looked about 8 who had her very own party ID!
The women were mostly gathered in the shade. A couple of people were drunk, but not many. Most were just buzzing on the drumming and the communal vibes! Kids were jumping into the ocean, which was at a nice high tide.
A huge water tank, about the size of my room, was available on one side.
The gigantic banyan tree in Xavier’s compound across the street was a hangout of choice for the katuas, old guys, with some status.
Xavier basically invites everybody to his place and it really feels like an open atmosphere. He was accused during the days of Marxist ideology of being “feudal” (and many of his followers were actually killed for this!)
But I cannot see this Congress as a feudal event. One does get the feeling that there is a certain “democratic” nature to this party. The people come, and Xavier gives them what they want. People are allowed to be crazy, to be themselves, within reason. I would like to see the actual “proceedings” of the Congress to understand the dynamics within the party, which started in one language group, Mambai, but appears to be expanding to other areas.
I bought two mini pineapples and a gigantic papaya on the street in the afternoon, costing a total of $3.50. If you think about it, papaya trees grow like wild fire and take little cultivation, and yet the fruit is quite valuable. The vast majority of Timorese live off of less than $2.
One of the common theories about the loromonu – lorosa’e conflict is that the Easterners (lorosa’e) are better entrepreneurs and sellers. That they dominate market trade and street selling, and that loromonu have always been more slack or less apt for commerce. And apparently one of the reasons more of the beleaguered lorosa’e have not returned to the East, their places of origin, is because they feel there is a lot to be earned with the new UN mission coming to Dili.
They have to protect their fruit vending territory.
A number of vendors came up to me on my way home trying to hawk phone cards and fruits. I thought I would have a laugh and offered them my papaya for $3, a bargain. A malai selling fruit, just what Timor needs!