Humility, dust

I walked out before dusk to the waterfront. I do not say beach because in this old part of Dili, the waterfront consists of this mouse-colored dirt, or is it fine sand, that is often strewn with small trash. The banyan trees along the waterfront reek of piss and fish drippings of the day’s fish sales.

In spite of the odors, there is a certain peace on the waterfront at the end of the day. A number of boats bobbing up and down. Atauro a faint monolith.

I noticed a number of cars parked towards the government palace.

I let my curiosity get the better of me and walked towards. There was a bus labeled UNTL (from the University) and a number of calm looking people, a woman holding a baby. Kids pedaling around on BMX bikes, including a small girl with a tennis racquet.


From across the street I saw the Police lined up in front of the government palace, for some kind of ceremony or salute. In the foreground I noticed, symbolically, the FDTL was in uniform keeping a lightly-manned perimeter. Bureaucrats were gathered on the Palace’s veranda, craning over to see the procession below. The glowing sun lit perfectly the metal letters “Palacio do Governo.”

The scene was calm. More than anything the word would be calm. Perhaps even serene.

A sharp contrast from the Gangster-danceathon-for-Peace.

I was reminded of Pedro Rosa Mendes’ surrealist portrait of a couple of days in the life of tiny African island country São Tomé – the way in which events just seemed to happen with no real apparent causality. But with a sublime and sometimes frightening beauty.

I walked back into the dust of the waterfront, watching the rusting canons turn a bright orange in the late afternoon sun. Many people were out occupying themselves with other tasks, fishing (although if I were a fish I wouldn’t be coming in this close), lying over heaps of 20kg bags of rice waiting to be loaded on boats to Atauro. A Timorese-malai couple trying to have a couple of moments peace.

I noticed one of the round rock armaments in a thicket of trees near to Xavier’s house looked a lot like Japanese armaments in Lautem. I realized for the first time it is probably Japanese. Yet another calamity Timor survived.

At these moments of quiet contemplation, it is basically a countdown before interruption. But today I kicked around in the dust, watching the scenes around me in perfect tranquility.

Closer to the street I was met with the torrent of large jeeps, NGO, UN and Government vehicles. Some over taking the traffic at alarming speed. It was a stream of inflated egos, I remember thinking to myself. And then I remember thinking to myself, is this very thought the thought of an inflated ego? And then as I looked down at my dusty shoes I thought, no. Being honest with myself, I have all kinds on inferiority complexes that keep my ego at a healthy size, and sometimes really hold me back.

I remember describing the UN/humanitarian missionary scene as a gigantic duster back in 2001. Be careful, humble little motes of dust, lest you be swept up in it, and its self-fulfilling, complacent logic.

With this on my mind I entered Dili Cold Storage, observing Timorese buying malai eggs, apples, candy, beer, etc. I bought two Tiger beers. Headed back across towards home and noticed these tables on the sidewalk. With colored “ethnic” tablecloths. Lots of police seated eating. A new restaurant. I went past, and looked back in.


Turkish flags.

I jumped at the chance to eat my first falafel in Timor. Antoni, the Turkish (?) owner, said he had yet to find a parsley supply. He had been shopping at the “malai” stores. I told him the market on the beach has parsley. He hadn’t even stopped to think of buying local.

As I headed back triumphant with falafel in hand, I heard a loud siren behind me.

A patrulha PNTL truck was passing slowly by, full of (brave) Timorese policeman. They were rather like a moving target, seated on a double-sided bench on the top of the flatbed of a pick-up truck, about eight of them. I assumed these are the first crop to be “vetted” (checked out as no-misconduct).

They were holding plastic flowers, which I thought was intended to be a reference to the Carnation Revolution in Portugal.

Some had an embarrassed look, some had a scared look on their faces. For the moment, anything but inflated egos. But aware of their significance, their responsibility. It brought tears to my eyes to see the PNTL back on the street. To think of how much is at stake here. To think of how close Timor came to self-destruction.

I am glad to see the PNTL’s boots back in the dust.


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