This week I had the pleasure of seeing Ego Lemos – currently Timor’s most famous singer songwriter – who is in the UK promoting his new album and playing a couple of shows. Unfortunately, many dates were canceled due to the unexpected illness of his touring partner Geoffrey Gurrumul.
Ego dropped into my place of work – a development agency where his ties as a permaculture activist go way back. I hope he does not mind me sharing that he talked at length about what he sees as his dual role as permaculture/community development advocate and songwriter/musician. He strongly believes that they two are not only compatible, but mutually reinforcing.
He told us about as a songwriter, he “hears” things, and is particularly sensitive to what people say and how they live. His work as a permaculture worker takes him to places where he hears about aspects of rural life.
Flying over Timor is a thrill. I’ve only had the privilege a handful of times. This past trip we arranged a Saturday morning, paid joy flight with Mission Aviation Fellowship. MAF does essential medivacs and transport services for NGOs, and is extremely cordial and professional – we felt very safe.
The idea was to fly up the Lacló River and over Funar. It was spectacular. Flying only 500 feet over the ocean, we saw a massive sea turtle, dolphins, small whale (?), and a large crocodile near Taci Tolu.
We also noticed a rather amusing pattern in the small fish collection pools created for low tide on the Taci Feto. Amazing how a whole new world is revealed only a couple of hundred feet above.
Arriving for my first time in Banda Aceh, after having only superficially followed developments over the past couple of years, I was rather in for a shock. The place is bigger, more prosperous and seemingly, well, “autonomous” from outside (read: international) influence than is East Timor.
Although Aceh is not independent from Indonesia (or free from its military), there are many potential comparisons to be made.
To start with more obvious contrasts.
In Timor the destruction was 100% work of man. The Timorese voted for independence in 1999 knowing full well what was waiting for them – scorched earth. People even knew who their butchers and torturers would be.
Timor’s population had been reduced over decades of violence, forced displacement, and hunger. Banda Aceh’s population was reduced by a third from one census to the next. (There was never even a proper death toll from the tsunami apparently.)