Tag Archives: timor-leste

Timor-Leste Diaries #1 – First Impressions

It seemed we had only just left Darwin before our little jet commenced its descent into Dili. Barely 600km from Australian soil, it was immediately clear that Timor-Leste was, in fact, a whole world away. Steep and striking mountains towered above us as we taxied along the Dili runway past multiple UN and ADF helicopters.

We lined up for immigration on a covered path surrounded by gardens (unlike any immigration I’ve encountered before!). And bam, there was my first collision with the language barrier.
“How long are you here for?” he asked from his little booth.
“16 days.”
“OK, 7 days,” he said, scribbling 7 days on the stamped visa in my passport.
“No, no, sorry, I need a 30 day visa.”
“One week? Yes? 2 week?”
This confusing but friendly conversation last for quite some time involving a comprehensive discussion about weeks and days and a bit of counting on fingers until I got my passport back with some scribble that I hoped spelled out thirty days. I get so frustrated and feel so rude when I am unable to speak the language of a nation.

We then threw our luggage into the back of a small truck and clambered in on top of it, much to the horror and embarrassment of the driver who couldn’t believe we’d prefer to sit in the dirty back rather than in the dual cab with him (oops. we didn’t know this offended him until later!).

As we weaved and honked our way through the heavy traffic past banana trees and cinder block houses, I was acutely aware of the smells…a pungent aroma of sea air, fruit, petrol fumes, rubbish, the tropics and animals all combined. Strangely, it invoked strong memories of my time in Guatemala…similar climate perhaps.

It was good to be here. Awake since 3am, exhausted, sick with a bad cold and sinusitis, mentally tired from a very busy semester, I was feeling a little apprehensive about surviving the next couple of intense weeks learning about peace building, state building, security sector reform and development. But in the back of that truck in the glow of the morning sun with the tropical breeze on our faces and countless children waving from the side of the road, the fears began to melt away and yes, it was good to be in Timor-Leste.

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The East Timor Diaries – Pre Departure

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.

Quick History
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…

Unwanted Shoes


Why I am collecting shoes in order to take them with me to East Timor in 2 weeks:

My lecturer had an old pair of runners that he passed on to a farmer in Timor-Leste. I believe the convo went something like this…
“Here you are, at least they should be useful for you out in the fields.”
Farmer: “In the fields? No! This is my first pair in over ten years…I will keep them just for mass.”

Even though there is a secret part of me that dreams of living barefoot, I realise this really isn’t the best option in life…especially if you don’t have a choice, or live in a nation where parasites can enter your body through your feet. So feeling a little ridiculous that I have so many pairs of shoes just sitting in my closet, I am now clearing out and also collecting unwanted (but in good condition) shoes to take with me.

So shoes clogging your closet? Let me know!

Timor-Leste

44 days to Timor-Leste.

Bit excited.

A beautiful country still struggling to recover from its tumultuous path to independence, Timor-Leste, I’m looking forward to meeting you.

And can’t wait to leave this 6°C weather in Melb far, far behind.