Ashes to ashes

There are certain images that have caught my attention over the first week in Dili.

Yesterday, an old man in a Australian wide-rimmed hat, walking around Kolmera selling bananas hanging from a bamboo pole. On one side, beautiful red-pink bananas. On the other, bright green. His shirt was a Chinese second hand with exactly matching colors. Bright green with a bright pink-red trim. I saw him twice, both with the same number of bananas, three hours apart.

This morning, with my host, running up the stairs past the grave of Ba’hai missionary Harold Fitzner in China Rate. The early morning light was catching the eastern mountain side of Alor, and I could for the first time make out contours on the slope. The dawn light was reflecting up from Hera, painting the purple clouds pink. All of the magnolia-type trees in the cemetery were in bloom.

Yesterday I took a look around the Palacio das Cinzas in Caicoli. The parts once occupied, with windows seemed totally abandonned. Not more than three cars around. Kids playing in the back. The President’s offices way in the back are still apparently used. The President himself has relocated to a more secure house in Farol.

It is in the row overlooking the sea with a square featuring the statue of Engenheiro Canto Resende, the de-facto Governor of Timor during the worst years of World War II who was abandoned by Salazar and killed by starvation and neglect by the Japanese forces in Alor where he was being held prisoner. The cross street, that runs along the canal and connects Farol up to Comoro Road, has been renamed Sergio Vieira de Mello, another martyr of a conflict much bigger than himself.

(A lot has been said about Ramos Horta’s beatification of himself upon his return to Timor, and to be honest, after a couple of laughs, it is not that interesting a topic.)

After the third and most difficult ascent, we walked into the highest circular grave. We looked at the “headstone” in Chinese. The place where the deceased’s photo remained presumably for years was cracked, and there was no image to help us. There was no sign of any recent offering. The dead are not so easily “displaced” as the living, this one was clearly left behind. In 1999? In 1975?

From up high, from the peace of China Rate, with Alor, Ataúro and the Cristo Rei peninsula closing the wide open space, one has a feeling of security. It is not feeling small in a big landscape, but instead of being something small in a small landscape.

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