Life under the flip-flop

The night before I left, grass fires lined the hills, like bleeding gums.

I had been asking myself over and over again, toying with in my head, how Dili could be this calm, this “ok” only three years after the violence. The calm, at times almost giddy, sense of prosperity.

In 2006, people were pulled out of mikrolets and forced to prove they could count to ten without the wrong accent. Those who failed to effortlessly say “h-at” for four were beaten, or worse dragged away. People lived wracked with fear of their neighbors. Of strangers. They lived in fear of themselves. There was no longer a jackboot, it was a terrifying Timorese shinelo.

All that remains on the city landscape of 2006 is the memorial for the police killed in Caicoli.

But what happened to the dead civilians?

More importantly, the roadblockers? The mask-wearing rock throwers? The rama-ambon makers? The house burners? The civilians who FDTL distributed arms to?

During tours of the city limits of Dili — through Becora, down through Bidau Santana, then out to Cristo Rei, and back out up the back of Delta Comoro, back down through Fatumeta, then up Taibesse’s up and around China Rate and back down Lahane – I wonder how much is stored up there — how is stress and anger contained. Where does it go? Is it swallowed? Is it buried? Is it literally stored away like an unused rama ambon?

I met some young people who have made a conscious decision to leave Dili, to go to Indonesia, to go to England. Dili is too small to contain all of their stress and anger.

It is hard to transmit how it felt in 2006, so it is hard to capture the strange dissonance with today’s Dili.

The mad construction keeps the city busy, and Prime Minister’s spokesman gloats over 12% growth in GDP.

Heaps of carpenters buzzing away making window and door frames with deslokadu money; the massive $400,000+ Civil Society Fund renovation of Motael Church, and the bigger and more expensive work on the Cathedral; the new wooden crocodile heads around the Monument to the Discoveries in front of the Palace of Government (a symbolic encircling of the colonial object); the traditional houses going up like lightening around the new Presidential palace, and in time for the big party in August.

While most people display a dangerous level of distrust in their political leaders, Dili seems perfectly lanu and mosu at the moment.

Have people begun to tell 2006? How can it ever be told?


2 thoughts on “Life under the flip-flop

  1. Although it’s true that the victims of the 2006 “crisis” have yet to receive their full due, far more egregious is the lack of justice for the more than 100,000 people killed as a result of the 1975-1999 Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste, none of whose families have received compensation, and none of the major perpetrators of which, most of whom are Indonesians implementing government policies, have been called to account in a court or anywhere else. For a sense of the frustration felt by a few of these victims, see the statement a few months ago from the survivors of the April 1999 Liquica massacre, at

  2. Hi Charlie, thanks for the comment and the link. The more amplifying of victims’ voices the better. The bottom line is, if the Timorese leadership does not want to pursue justice, it will not happen. Until justice becomes a sufficiently burning political issue, I believe there will be no progress. However it will indeed be outrageous if RoI goes ahead and pays out civil servant pensions without paying some form of (symbolic) collective reparation for the death and destruction that its jackboot wrought on Timor.

    My point with my post was that 2006 was qualitatively different, and my question is around the lasting impacts of those couple of months on Dili and Timor Leste more broadly. For example: is there one study that outlines the impacts of the months AFTER June 2006? The running conflicts between gangs, the near paralyzing fear of the latter half of 2006? Where has that been captured? The COI report, USAID’s conflict assessment, Scambury’s report… none of them capture the experience of those months.

    Part of me is wondering whether fiction would be the best medium to tell 2006. (I am currently reading Half of a Yellow Sun on the Biafra war and regionalism in Nigeria…)

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