I went to the Mountain of the Souls to find about more about death, about the way Timorese view death. But in the end everything came down to the purgatory on earth that people are living here.

One student on the first night came to me to practice English, saying that he enrolled at UNTIL but shortly after his friend was pulled from a taxi and hacked to bits for being an “Easterner.” He just buried the friend last week in Baucau. He is not returning to go to University.

Then the families I traveled with and stayed with. Their houses were burned in the first wave of violence in May, due to their connection with the PNTL. They lost everything. Including copies of photos I had taken of an amazing ceremony they put on in 2003 for their deceased ancestors.

Some were living in “Obrigado” (across from the UN) some in “Jardim” (across from the five-star hotel), others in Baucau and Metinaro, or commuting between all three. All had in common a very precarious existence and little hope for the immediate future. They would move back to their ancestral homes, but their children must go to high school, and there are no high schools in the mountains.

I also noted the irony of the graves of the “avos” (the grandparents) being tiled with amazing bathroom tile. Extremely clean, and costly. Compared with the latrines and bathing facilities of the living. A stark contrast. Perhaps in this kind of precarious post-independence purgatory, celebrating the dead is simply a better bet than worrying about bathing facilities.

The children quite enjoy burning candles and throwing flowers for their grandparents. Also, the return to the ancestral rock terraced graves is a chance for them to contact their “roots” and understand a little better what life used to be like. Plus there were nice grapefruits growing near the family’s uma kain, bitter but refreshing.

When I return to Dili, I will focus more on the sublime, the less political parts of my trip. I’m currently using internet at the posh Pousada in Baucau. About to hop microlets and dump trucks to get back the Mountain.


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