Market, orchids, rice

Sunday morning is market day in Uatocarbau. In Portuguese times, the market used to be where the boys were playing soccer the night before. Conveniently under the gaze of the posto building. Today the market is a small structure under the school, placed rather elegantly under Mount Boraboo.

People live up there. They walk three hours down to sell their wares. Most of the “mountain” produce are onions, betel nut, miniature carrots and tubers. Richer merchants from the surrounding sucos come with commercial goods from Indonesia, mostly batteries, notebooks, soaps, lighters, cigarettes, and shoes and clothes. The guys selling clothes insisted they were “no good” when I came by to take a look. The little girls that were selling next to older women fled in false modesty when I took the camera out.

We bought bread, which is a real treat for everybody.

Change is a real problem up here. The dollar is simply too big. People told me even getting together fifty cents is a real challenge for most people. So imagine people’s horror when I pulled out a $10 bill. The dona of the house where I was staying had to ask me for smaller bills. Even then, getting 50cents change back was her responsibility, not the vendors! I asked about bartering, whether that works. No, no! Only money. Osan.

I needed to buy about a dozen packs of clove Gudang Garam cigarettes for the katuas I was hoping to catch up with and interview. I couldn’t find a vendor with more than 4 packs. I was pretty shocked. Gudang Garam is, besides instant noodles and Coke, the most important foreign product in Timor. But it is simply too expensive for people up there. In Dili, you can find as cheap as $0.70/pack. But up on the mountain, no less than $0.90. I had to ask one of the bigger vendors to send her daughter running home for more.

The activity was picking up over the course of the morning. They told me that the futu manu, the cock fighting would go on all day next to the market. But by midday, our friend Marçal along with the driver came back disappointed. Nobody had seemed to get the $20 together to enter into the fight. I thought $20 was a lot of money, after the morning of begging for change and more cigarettes!

Supposedly, some katuas come to the market were going to pass by the house near the posto where I was staying. By lunchtime there was no sign of them, so I decided to head back to Pedro’s place closer to Matebian. We decided to head off another 1-1/2 towards Matebian to find one very important katuas who used to be in the segunda linha, the Timorese militia forces controlled by the Portuguese.

It was a beautiful walk, except for the Timorese technique of walking STRAIGHT up the steepest hill to save a 30m detour around. I told Pedro, man, if you want to receive malai tourists, you need to teach Timorese people not to always take the direct vertical path! We like switchbacks, walking around.

We stopped at the fallow rice paddy terraces of the ex-liurai of Afaloicai Uatocarbau. They must have been very productive at one point. This liurai’s story is key to the story of the site as a whole. Apparently he lives in Dili. I got to thinking about how many stories the landscape can tell here. The more elaborate terraces must have required a lot of manpower, the ability to force a lot of serfs to work. Also the fallow, once rich areas beg the question, what happened to their owners? Not just the agricultural landscape, but the rocks and the trees. Coconut trees tell us a lot about where the Portuguese went. Whenever I see a line of palm trees, I know the Portuguese were involved. Rocks, big ones, are often sacred places, or taboo places. They told me that there is a kind of powerful rock called a maka that is associated with cemeteries. These rocks, if you let animals and personal property go to close, will swallow them. If you speak poorly of the ancestors or have bad thoughts around them, you might become victim to them.

Certain mountains and rock formations are more “sacred” than others. During my daytime walks, people don’t seem to have a problem telling me which places are more important than others. Sometimes people do lower their voices when talking about certain things or hesitate before starting.

Well the old man we were looking for, it turns out, was about thirty hard minutes down the valley at his second natar or rice field. His family seemed to be all comfortably working and resting close to home. I began to ask myself why it seems the only people doing the hard work, walking all day and really sustaining these families are over seventy years old?

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Pedro’s sister and brother-in-law are a good example. They are barely keeping things together. Both are sick, she has “pain in her neck” and he has a large wound on his foot, which does not heal because he has to herd cattle in two-week shifts. But they do not have any younger family to help them consistently.

We walked back across the valley, on the easier path, the old road connecting Afaloicai Baguia with the Uatocarbau posto. Pedro told me that crocodiles have been known to make their way up from the coast, swimming through flooded rice paddies and crawling up the river. That is a great selling point for tourists! But he has yet to see them.

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The orchids growing on the pine trees throughout the valley were yet to bloom. But they will be amazing in a couple of weeks with the rain. Between the orchids, the amazing birdlife (parrots, parakeets, etc), the crocs, and the amazing mountain trekking nearby, as soon as things calm down, I think Pedro can really create something special in Timor. I talked with him about cooperating in some kind of training program for guides.

More soon on my fruitful talks with katuas, and the “discovery” of the ruined military post in Uatocarbau, with 3m thick walls, that we were unable to date.

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