Boys do. It’s weird to see gender roles in action so forcefully.
'I began this project quite unaware of what I'd really taken on.'
Boys do. It’s weird to see gender roles in action so forcefully.
I foreshadowed this a little when I mentioned in an entry above that my Timorese colleagues didn’t want to walk the five minutes back to work from lunch, they preferred to wait half an hour for a work vehicle to come pick them up. What am I trying to illustrate by telling you about this again? That Timorese people hate to walk. ANYWHERE.
I went for a lovely walk up a little mountain for three of the mornings I was in Same, and every morning I got looks of incredulousness. Walk, mana? Up the mountain? On your own? Why? Will you be alright?
Of course, I suspect part of the ‘will you be alright’ was to do with the bad spirits that lurk up that particular mountain, but it was definitely also a question about a person’s ability to walk more than 20 metres in any given direction. They just don’t get the idea of walking for exercise or, God forbid, enjoyment. If the car can take you that 20 metres, then, by God, in the car it is!
Then again, I can’t see the point in the daily, endless sitting under trees either, so I guess we’re mutually inscrutable.
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’.
After taking approximately my entire life to actually leave Dili, it was a rollicking 4 and a half hour drive to Same. Here is a timeline:
9am: I arrive at work with my enormous hiking backpack and slightly smaller everyday backpack to cries of shock from my colleagues. Yeah, well, no way I’m drinking the evil tap water in Timor, ever, and expecting the guesthouse to have sheets or a towel for me. Be Prepared, kids.
9.25am: I ask where my colleague Herminio’s backpack is. Oh, it’s still at home, mana. He will get our driver, Tino, to pick it up on our way out of town. Like the other two people in our vehicle. Mmmhmm, I think. I can see how this afternoon’s going to go already.
11.45am: The others all leave for lunch – ‘We have to go early, mana, so we can leave this afternoon. We meet back here at 1, ok?’ Mmmhmm.
12.30pm: I go to lunch and discover them all at the cafe. They wait for me to eat with them, and when I finish and say I’m going back to work, they seem surprised that I want to walk the 5 minutes back to work. They are going to wait (half an hour) for the work vehicle to come pick them up, rather than walk (5 minutes!!!) back to work. O-kay.
12.50-2.10pm. I pepper Herminio with texts about his and the others’ whereabouts, afraid I will be left behind (not unheard of), while he and Armando go downtown to buy hats and sunnies, for their stylin’ needs while on tour. I refrain from asking ‘Was it really necessary to do that NOW?’. Start that now and it’ll be a loooong weekend, girl.
2.10pm. Herminio arrives back at work and announces I can take my things down to the vehicle. Yay!
2.20pm. Elfrina, who is meant to be coming to Same in our vehicle, is nowhere to be found.
2.25pm. We establish that she is at her house and we will just pick her up from there. Yay! We are leaving the Palacio! We’re on our way!
2. 27pm. We’re not on our way. We stop so that our driver can buy a hat and sunnies, and so Herminio can return his hat, because it’s already broken. I lean out the window and take pictures of the street – Dili, bustling urban metropolis. (V. dirty.)
2.52pm. Yay! We are leaving Comoro (suburb 2 minutes distance from Palacio). We’re on our way!
2.58pm. We’re not on our way. We’ve come to the Taibesi market, so everyone else can buy bottles of water and snacks. I munch on a muesli bar from the hoard of snacks I bought yesterday, think about all the advice I’ve ever read about driving outside Dili after dark (‘don’t’), and wonder how long we will be driving in the dark, if the sun sets around 6 and last light is around 6.45. One hour? Two? Hmm, I wonder what could be worse in the dark. Landslips? Lack of lighting? Land pirates? Mythical Timorese creatures?
3.15pm. I know we’re still not on our way, because we haven’t picked up Elfrina yet. We stop in the middle of a street so Tino, our driver, can chat to the driver of the UNFPA vehicle, who happens to be heading the opposite way to us. Whatever. Do – do-doooo.
3.25pm. My God! Elfrina is in the car! We are on the road heading out of town! We’re actually on our way!
4.01pm. We stop for mandarins in the first foggy part of the hill (on the side of the road, blocking traffic six cars back). Everyone is suddenly freezing, except me, who is relieved to not be sweaty for the first time in six months.
4.43pm. We stop to take photos on the side of a hill and it really is almost cold now. Like, I think it could be below 20 – maybe even below 15! I put on a jumper and give another one to Elfrina, who totally did not bring enough warm clothes, although I point out she’s 24, this is her country, presumably someone told her it’s not all a stinking hellhole like Dili?. Herminio gives her his woollen gloves (hot pink), she zips up her hoodie, tucks her feet underneath herself and shivers. I rub her arms while thinking about my open shoes and cotton trousers and past times, when I used to think 14 degrees was arctic, but now I am broken by Canberra and Armidale and I think it’s extremely pleasant.
4.44pm Elfrina throws up for the first time. Tino’s driving isn’t the smoothest and the road isn’t fabulous either, although I think by Timorese and NSW standards it isn’t too bad. (Some roads in Timor are WAY better than roads in NSW, just as a point of comparison.)
4.47pm – town of Same, around 7.30pm: Poor Elfrina grows steadily more and more miserable until she is so sick, she is unable to speak. We put her to bed in a room with all the lights blazing (can’t turn the lights off when the generator is on), and I feed her Gastrolyte from my little first aid kit. She’ll be ok in the morning.
I can’t believe we made it without driving off a cliff or something. But hey, we’re here!
Thursday 28th May – Monday 1st June – 6 months, 12 – 16 days
Right. Well. Same (pronounced ‘Sahmeh’) was amazing, Ainaro cute and beachy. We spent the best part of our trip in Same, which is a little spread-out town set amongst breathtaking mountain scenery in the Manufahi district of Timor. Beautiful little Timorese tiled houses on the south road in; a poncing Indonesian soldier statue welcoming you in on the other side; sad, burnt out scout hall and impressive-but-burnt-out market in the middle. It’s the kind of thing that sounds clichéd when I write about it and would be much better described with the pictures I took*. When I’m home, my pretties. Here’s a series of entries about thoughts and happenings that occurred over the trip.