Today I had the good fortune of being invited to a Timorese “business lunch” along the beach road out towards Areia Branca and the Timorese “Cristo Rei”. I called an extremely nice friend who is now a Timorese Diplomat and he said come on down and meet “us.” “It’s a business lunch, my big businessman friend will buy you lunch.” (I have a major complex about getting bought lunch because I am aware that basically crumble under pressure and do not put up a big enough resistance.) Anyways, interesting experience I thought.
So I convinced a taxi to drive me down there for $1.50, which I suppose is a testament to my bargaining skills in Tetun or the fact that the taxi driver was lazy and just wanted me to shut up.
I got closer and noticed all of these buses down there. Strange, I thought. The main road to Baucau goes through Becora. But buses to Baucau no longer go there, because there is too much rock throwing. Those buses are “lorosa’e” and hence the target of the anger of the majority of Dili (which seems to be increasingly “loromonu”).
All of the restaurants down there are new to me, with the exception of Victoria which has been there since like 2000. There is a Balinese place, very friendly, and then after a “Timorese Portuguese” place apparently owned by people from Baucau. Very pleasant, simple but clean and well decorated with views straight out to Atauro. I think this row of restaurants is actually nicer than some of the beach resort areas in Bali.
Anyways, so I sit down and Diplomat says “have a beer! This is my second” and he’s wearing these nice aviator Ray Bans, and I’m thinking, wow life is good for the foreign service everywhere. He says, and rightly so, “You never know how long you have to live, so enjoy it.” Meaning never skip beer or wine at lunch. They had ordered ikan (one each!) which came with a really nice sauce, and modo which are like watercress grown in the canals of Dili, and a salad. Really top notch food.
Diplomat’s friend, big business man, did not have a lot of bling bling or flashy clothes to indicate that he was in fact Nike’s sole representative in Timor! They explained that Nike wants to sell legitimate shoes, balls and clothes here, they believe there is a market now for such stuff. I asked if they had any Timorese athletes with the Nike endorsement yet, and he said they were working on it. He says his sales are already outranking Fiji. I told him it’s only a matter of time before he gets invited to World HQ in Oregon!
I asked him if he ever wore the swoosh, and he said yes, but we can’t everyday. He said that Nike is making a global comeback since the loss of Michael Jordan. But Adidas is still really big at the moment. Most of the customers, Diplomat laughed, are foreigners, UN types who think it’s cheaper here than in their home countries. In any case, sales are good in Dili.
Turns out that Businessman knew quite a few people who could help my research, and he actually got me thinking about some important things. I also learned that all of the roads around my region have gone to shit, and that even now in the dry season, I’ll need a 4WD car to take me out there.
Next, for a change of pace, I went to a discussion at Sa’he Institute, the revolutionary NGO named after Vicente Sa’he, the Fretilin leader who pioneered Timor’s first indigenous literacy campaigns. There was supposed to be some discussion with a famous malai activist from Australia. I felt as though I entered into a time warp, listening to the language from some of the initial revolutionary Fretilin documents. These are guys (and a couple of girls) that still use “reactionary” without the quotation marks.
It was interesting (anthropologically) but I was a bit distracted because I really wanted to talk with one of the moderators about his work on “conflict transformation.” I finally got to talk to him at a tea break; I remember meeting him briefly in 2001 before he went to study in Ireland. He is one of the (aging) youth/student leaders who is political but not “in” politics.
One thing that struck me, is that for a place that talked so much about “patriarchy”, and the preeminence of the white man, there seemed to be ingrained gender roles. It made me chuckle that when snack time came around, it was the girls who hopped up to bring out the bananas, roasted tubers and seaweed salad. The only man who got up to help was wearing a t-shirt that said “Good Bush” (followed by an illustration of a woman’s pelvis, covered) and “Bad Bush” (President Bush).
This reminded me of my parent’s story from 1970, when they were staying briefly in the same apartment as the infamous Abby Hoffman, who was on trial in Chicago. He would go to the trial all day, and leave his wife in the house to type up his notes and be his secretary.
Viva la revolución! Or better yet, halo de’it ona! Just do it!