Ten years ago at this time, I was going to the expanse outside Dili called Tasi Tolu, to see East Timor’s flag raised publicly for the first time on the territory since 1975.
May 21, 2002, the next day, I wrote
I just wanted to share this moment of joy. Today I woke up in an Independent East Timor. Four years ago, East Timor’s plight represented for me the plainest example of the callousness, cynicism and injustice of the media, of politicians, of the mystical “international community”… it was a source of a sort of bitter personal awakening for me at age 18.
Now I can say, that while living in East Timor for 9 months has only deepened for me the complexity of the words “justice” and “independence,” I can see today as the truly emotional and unforgettable day that it is. […]
And no matter how bogged down any independent country becomes in irritating and mundane politics, I can verify that this moment of Independence: to believe and know in your heart that you are no longer subject to an aggressive foreign occupier, is too profound to describe.
The years that followed were quiet but punctuated with loudness: December 2004, 2006, August 2007, February 2008… In 2009 I wrote rather dramatically about how people deal with the past.
Thinking back over these ten years, I do not know what to say. (Which is rare for me!)
Just to say that when I think about how I imagined a free East Timor in 1997-1999, I had no idea. Zero. As a young activist, it did not seem to matter. Looking back, I realize how a nation is composed of people. Not heroes, but people. People who age and change. People are complicated beings. There is an ebb and flow of emotion, awareness, that comes with being a person. Metabolisms change. This too can be felt collectively.
I tell people who would be harsher on “Timor” – as though a country even deserves to be placed on some international humanitarian scales – that the country is still consolidating even some of the most basic institutions.
I have no judgment to make of a country, which is always much more than its leaders and politicians anyways. But I do know that my relationship with East Timor marked me profoundly, it shaped my understanding of armed conflict, government, “human nature”, gender, globalization, spirituality and truth, food, land, knowledge and subjectivity, and I’m just getting started.
It is hard for me to feel the joy I felt in May 2002, or even summon the memory.
(I look at the photos of the stage yesterday in Tasi Tolu and they are very strange to me.)
What I feel is age, it is an appreciation for the lived experience of time as it passes – not just my own, but a small window into the experience of about 1 million people.