It’s been an action packed last 2 weeks and I understand now that leaving the blog for this long is a mistake given my advancing old age and a brain that’s becoming increasingly full of additional “stuff”.
Since last I wrote we have had Easter. A pretty big deal in a country that most people fact check as 95 percent Catholic. You’ll hear the odd dissent about that number, something to do with the independence troubles and the registration of religious numbers compared to the actual attendees at Mass. From where I sat it certainly looked like every man, woman and child had their assorted finery on and were heading to church, several times, over Holy Week. There were processions, much singing, the quiet chaos of one-way roads being closed and the general familiar confusion of who’s open, when.
Our landlady arrived on Easter Sunday with 2 huge containers of food…chorizo, chicken and spiced rice and crumbed fish. One of the younger girls in the extended family knocked quietly at our door, quickly wished us a Happy Easter, thrust the food into our hands and disappeared back around to her side of the house.
Our place sits behind a large grey gate, locked at night, and topped by shards of broken glass to prevent any one climbing over. The buildings are joined up and share walls and look like they started as one single structure and then just grew additional lumps and bumps as more people needed to fit in. We are sure that there is a grandma (Philomena) an eldest daughter (Adelaide), another daughter, a variety of husbands and sons and maybe, at last count around 6 or 7 children. They live beside us, behind us, around us.
There’s a red dog, Melo, a cat who gave birth under our bedroom window at 3 am one morning whose kitten cried through the night and a rooster who possesses an almost perfectly set snooze button. He starts at 5.30am and crows every half hour till 8am.
Easter provided us respite from language classes and Mark and I and our new buddy Adrian took to the hills. Literally. It’s 120 kms from Dili to Bacau, it took us 6 HOURS! Imagine if you will the worst New Zealand road you’ve ever been on, now travel on that road by scooter, in 32-degree heat. Now imagine that road designed by the Devil (you know, the old school fire and brimstone, suffering, circles of hell dude), 30 minutes of hot sticky black tar, an hour of corrugations so tough your wrists and shoulders are aching, then an hour of potholes and gravel, interspersed with great long stretches of perfect road to lull you into a false sense of security. Now, imagine road works, and trucks and buses that rumble past you with no real sense of the space they take on the road, and don’t forget the other scooters zipping in and out in front and around you. Now finally just when you think you’re done add in wandering water buffalo, goats, pigs and dogs. Oh, and the odd village kid who on seeing you runs out shouting “Malae, Malae “(translated as, what are you doing crazy white woman riding through here, ha ha ha Bacau is miles away and you look knackered already!)
We stopped hourly to get the blood back into my arse, those scooter seats are HARD, and to shake off the trauma of the road. The shower at the guest house in Bacau was the best thing I’ve felt in years.
We had a sleep, a swim and then turned around and came home. About 4 hours in I fell elegantly, slowly and embarrassingly off my scooter coming round a bend down a long sweeping patch of gravel. I was going so slowly it looked like I almost stepped off (or so Mark told me as he lifted my bike off my bruised ego). We washed off the gravel and my graze in the ocean when we found a great snorkeling spot and I travelled the final 2 hours in my salty drying togs with a stinging knee, a sunburnt chest and an amazingly perverse sense of achievement.
Anzac Day saw us invited by the NZ Embassy to a dawn service with the Australians (they brought a boatload of people in, I sense some irony in that), local Timorese Veterans and the sole representative from Turkey, the guy who runs the local kebab restaurant. It felt strangely familiar, the Last Post, the Ode, the NZ National anthem, yet completely different, the dawn service in a summer frock and sandals unheard of in New Zealand, the smell of Deet on my skin, the Timorese anthem and the Presidential address in Portuguese.
Which raises an interesting point. Language here is tough. Most people speak Tetun, a combination of loan words from Portuguese and Bahasa. Some people speak only Bahasa, the government officials and the language of the elite is Portuguese, the villagers speak their own dialect (there’re hundreds of those) and the young guys desperately want to be learning English. Formal written documents are in Portuguese (we got stopped at a check point, we had limited documents, I was very quiet!) yet many Timorese can’t read that language. Street signs can be in a mix of any or all of the above.
It adds a layer of complexity to a place that’s already mired in the complex.
I got a mop for my birthday, I was pretty excited about that. The power went off today for 4 hours. No power means no water means no mopping!
I finally got to do it just before dinner time.
It’s the simple things that make the complex bearable.