Soon, I will be heading into the Pacific to East Timor with a small bunch of students to spend a couple of weeks examining the “Development-Peace-Security Nexus” in post-conflict societies. I am expecting my ideals to be challenged, my worldview to expand and my brain to possibly explode from the truckload of readings and new theoretical concepts I am being introduced to.
I am excited. I am also freaking out a little, as continuing in my habit of getting sick at very inconvenient times I am currently melting from a slight fever and an incessant cough that is beginning to sound quite nasty. And so every time I get up to pack or study a little more I find the world spinning and shortly end up back in bed. Am frustrated and feeling a little overwhelmed about all I need to get done, but hopefully this cold/flu/bronchitis/whatever will run its course quickly and I’ll be up and at em in no time.
But I certainly can’t wait to get there. East Timor has captured my heart.
East Timor. A land of breathtaking scenery, a wonderfully pleasant climate, and possibly the most resilient people of the world. Also a land of great suffering and hardship, East Timor sat under Portuguese rule for over 400 years, were briefly occupied by the Japanese during WWII, and after finally declaring independence in 1975, were invaded by Indonesia a mere 9 days later.
The world turned a blind eye as the occupying forces of Indonesia reeked havoc across the nation; pillaging, burning, raping, killing; it was a campaign of terror designed to subdue the East Timorese until they willingly submitted to Indonesian ‘integration’. Horrifically, approximately one third of the East Timorese population died from conflict related causes during the Indonesian occupation. Amazingly, the strength of the East Timorese did not wane and they continued to fight against Indonesian invasion both within the country and outside the country.
Their indomitable spirit paid off when following the fall of the Suharto regime, President Habibe called for a referendum in East Timor; this would decide whether East Timor would become an autonomous state within Indonesia or not (consequently regaining their independence). In spite of the intimidation and violence by Indonesian military and Indonesian sponsored militia groups, an overwhelming 78.5% of the vote was against autonomy (that is, for independence) and East Timor was free once more. Sadly, the violence was far from over, as the angry militia and military went on a rampage – burning everything in their path as they retreated to West Timor.
Since then the nation has struggled to rebuild itself, and unfortunately East Timor now gets to carry the label of the poorest country in Asia (according to the HDI). The rapid UN led transition to democracy left many gaps in institutions and relationships of this nation and 2006 saw further violence erupt in Dili.
And so it is to this troubled but beautiful nation that I am flying off too…with a suitcase full DEET spray and spare shoes and little koalas to give away, but most importantly, with an open mind……I have so much to learn, about peace building, about nation building, about state building, about interventions, about ideas of development, about cultures and traditions, about…everything. I have a feeling I will come back with more questions than answers…