The purpose of our trip was ostensibly part of the ‘socialisation’ (just another example of weird usage of English in Timor) of our work organisation to the 12 rural districts. This year, there is one trip to each district scheduled each month, in order to introduce a senior staff member, other members, and explain what our work is about (advocating for gender equality and educating Ministries and people about it, basically). There are long speeches, and many heartfelt questions about the importance and strength of women, and also how much funding can be distributed. However I do kind of suspect it’s also just a good opportunity for people to go dance at 11 in the morning and visit their brother who lives in the next village (like all good work trips should be).
It was rather an event each time we showed up to something. We could probably achieve our aim by just turning up for a one hour meeting with the District Administrator (head honcho), but where would the fun be in that? Much better to put on a show: like kids and teenagers in traditional clothes (usually based on tais, which I always think is a bit of a too-hot material for the climate, even in the mountains, where it’s cooler), performing dances and playing music for us. I underwent the tais ceremony, which is much simpler than it sounds: a kid hangs a scarf-shaped tais around your neck, and you kiss on both cheeks*. (It’s to welcome people.) There were about 100 people who showed up to our speech-and-questions morning in Same, and about 300 in Ainaro (more in Ainaro because it was held at a high school and all the kids came).
Each of these ceremonies ended up turning into a midday party – in Lilika, Becano, where we went to check out someone’s paddock (women’s farming projects), boys in white shirts and jeans played guitar while the girls in traditional tais prodded our staff to get up and dance. There were little guys in more traditional looking outfits too – the littlest bloke, I think about 6 years old, was a great little dancer. I got a good picture of him that’ll be going into the final set I frame when I’m back in Australia. I was pleased to see in Ainaro that girls also played guitar (and one violin) – the Lilika performance had me despairing that music is similarly gendered as in Australia (boys play guitar; girls dance).
I guess all the dancing and music is why it’s called ‘socialisation’.
- This is a normal greeting in Timor; so is shaking hands. Kissing is more common between women, shaking hands is more common between men and between women and men. I’m afraid I’ve never been a fan of the cheek kiss – I find it fake – so although I know it’s normal here, I can’t get used to it and it makes me kind of uncomfortable.