I have roughly a week left here. I have spent probably more time in the past week with 80 something year old men than people closer to my age.
On “malai road” I am starting to feel a sense of deep alienation to the other malais here. I honestly just do not want to be a part of the UN/NGO scene. I’m not saying I’m any “better” I’m just a leach like the rest. But a solitary leach. Perhaps because I’m visiting and not living here, I have adopted a combative attitude to the expat-dom I once actually liked.
But I never felt comfortable with the lifestyle. The big cars, the scuba diving, the trips to Bali, the humanitarianism-snobbism. They say there are three species of expatriated peoples in places like this: the missionaries, the mercenaries and the misfits. I guess I always was hanging out with the Misfits.
Today I spoke for three hours with a man who was a nurse during the Portuguese times. He has lived through it all: the Japanese occupation, colonial discrimination and a violent rebellion, cold war hysteria, civil war, a civilian jungle resistance (during which time he made pills out of jungle plants), prison/torture, exile, return, and the “crisis” in response to which he moved his belongings from Dili to the mountains.
Nurse is an extremely engaged, lucid and thinking individual. His trim white hair frames his bald pate, his facial features indicating he was handsome in earlier days. His lower jaw trembles slightly as he speaks, but I noticed after two hours, it trembled less.
His oldest child was disappeared in 1980. Another went on to become big in leftist politics. Others are in the foreign service now. Only two remain in Timor.
Age feels better to me. I was never comfortable with my youth. As a child I felt oppressed by the limits that my age imposed on me, the arbitrariness of things (Adults telling me “do it because I told you so!”) As an adolescent, I felt condescended to and expected to misbehave. So instead of misbehaving, I opted to simply ignore the rules. Not violate them, or rebel for the sake of it.
I have always felt a vague sadness or regret for things I have not done and will not have done in due time. It’s funny I studied “Development” at university (modernization, progress etc), because in terms of my “development” as an individual, I’ve always felt oppressed by the rites of passage and personal progress that our culture imposes. I’ve savored and grown to like my sense of “missing out” on a lot of these markers.
It’s almost like being prematurely old, regretting preemptively, before aging, and liking that feeling.
Now, for example, I should be biking to the beach, it’s the end of the day. There is a lump in the back of my throat. I feel like I have become mired in this aged, sad, nearly defeated Timor. Not the Timor of the beach, of the spear fisherman, of the dolphins, and kids fishing in the sewers with wide smiles on their faces.
I’ve even come to feel better in this Timor of empty prefab housing with waist high weeds growing inside. The Timor of sending “pulsus” to get paper work done in government. Of the kid who is now too old to beg on Malai Road, cause he is big and scary and his voice has cracked. The Timor of the stalling taxi going too slow at too high a gear.
But people have lived long fulfilling lives with greater deprivation and struggle. This Timor will get easier for my generation. But only with age.