Letter Two

Beginning to See Part of the Picture

DILI, December 2000.

IT IS HARD WORK DRINKING enough to keep properly hydrated. It literally feels like a chore. You have to drink when you don't feel like it or are not even thirsty. Someone said it's only 32C, but, when the humidity is high youand you don't sweat, there's no evaporation: no cooling. At night I lie in bed trying to will heat away from me, but it seems to soak in, instead. Whew!

Liandro gave me a tour of the larger Futo building. It has a first floor and was an Indonesian built block of twelve apartments. To look at them, it must have been reasonably nice. Now, all the doors and all the windows are gone. Every electrical fitting has been ripped out. There is no water. The asbestos ceilings in every room have been holed with rocks. If you are a diehard optimist, you'd say, at least they didn't burn it.

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Me and Dominguez on a balcony at Futo
Futo has another solid building. It is being used as classrooms and sewing workshop. It has lovely white tiled floors. However, Rita, an Australian nun who teaches English in one of them pointed out they are hard to utilise effectively because without windows they are not lockable. The smaller, lockable rooms have plywood "windows" which are stifling when they are closed as they have to be in the morning or the sun comes in unbearably.

When the Indonesians were here, it sounds like East Timor functioned. But the Indonesian response to the referendum result changed all that. I am staying at the family home of Meno Cordosa, the director of Futo. Meno was a radio broadcaster during the Indonesian occupation and is fluent in bahasa Indonesia, Portuguese and Tetum, as are most people his age. Younger people don't have the Portuguese. Hardly anyone has English.

His brother-in-law Amandeo visited the other night. Amandeo is an agriculture graduate and speaks English well. He said that most people didn't learn English for their own safety. He said that when the Indonesians were there, if a person was seen talking to a malae (foreigner) they would be later taken away and 'questioned' about what you were talking about. Given this, there wasn't a lot of motivation to learn English.

The day after the referendum, when it was apparent how murderous things were getting, Amandeo and Meno's family went to Jakarta where they rented a house for two months, until the UN returned. During that time, everything that was functional in East Timor was either taken away or destroyed. I asked him why Meno's house wasn't burned. He said that army and militia were selective about who they burned out. It seems that the houses of people who had performed functions for the Indonesians weren't burnt, they were just stripped bare.

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Futo director Meno Cordosa and Mr Fernando and Liandro

Meno, himself, is quite a solemn person. He breaks into a big smile, when he thinks it is warranted, but I don't find him very forthcoming and I sense he is a troubled man. The other morning, Meno came into my dining room (which is really the family's living room, whcih they have vacated for me) with a sheaf of papers in his hand. He said, 'Mister David, I want you to see something.' I sat down and he sat opposite me and gave me the papers. They were photographs of people being tortured. He said, 'These are our people.' I handed them back to him and went into my room and had a cry. Later that day I felt pissed off with him for doing that to me. And yet, I understand this is the basis for his solemnity. And, I guess he wants me to feel it, to know where I have come to. East Timor is in trauma. The physical destruction is just one of the symptoms.

I don't think all these columns will be too depressing. But the initial reality of East Timor hits you heavily, like the heat.

This Taranaki newspaper has been publishing Dave's letters fortnightly
during his time in Timor
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1 First Impressions
2 Beginning to See Part of the Picture
3 Don't Mistake Poverty for Quaint
4 What Am I Doing Here?
5 Smoke & Refugees
6 Good Aid/Bad Aid
7 The Healthiest One in the Ward
8 Getting Around in Dili
9 No Work and You Don't Get Paid
10 Four Languages, Four Currencies
11 Just Below the Surface
12 As Hard Leaving as Arriving
13 Don't Get the Wrong Impression