During 2004-2005 I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Timor. I wrote a daily blog to keep myself sane I took the blog down at the request of my Country Director, but continued to write. This is an edited version of that blog form our time in Darwin Till evacuation. If I give offense remember, no volunteer ever gets it completely right.
Below are some of my verbal stories on you tube. Some are peace corps related. Maka Nee Deit
I saw your face book group.
A couple of you have gotten in touch with questions and out of sheer excitement.
Get in there volunteers. The best stories and most interesting relationships of your life are waiting to be made.
This being a closed arc blog, it is unusual for me to add more content; a couple of things worth note have occurred. One of the stories in this blog ended up getting published in Even the smallest crab has teeth. This is a story I made a story telling montage of called, Zulia tells a funny story.
Further third goal activities have included the telling of Love Notes live at a story event I frequent called Zen Mothra in Hopkinton. I will be telling the story Lau Tanis as a headliner there this September.
Finally, I am in the running to be one of the main story tellers at the Boston Moth premiere story hour. I will let you know how this long shot plays out.
This blog is a closed story arc. The experience of me ,Terrance Clarke, as a Peace Corps Volunteer in East Timor 05-06. It runs from Pre-staging in Austrailia to evacuation in Bangkok a year later. It was taken down at the request of my country director who I respected and had some valid points but has passed it's time of potencey. I have cleaned up the spelling, added in some hindsight and cut a few posts that were too ignorant to stand, but otherwise this is, the is.
I am posting this now as part of a third goal effort with the 50th Anniversary of the Peace corps. Anyone considering volunteer service in the corps and would like some feedback a sounding board please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are thinking of joining please take my blog with a grain of cynical salt, I have a grimly comic world view and was a volunteer at a dark time in Timor's history. In the end I would not have missed it for the world.
Those wishing to support Timor's continuing reconciliation effort with Indonesia please visit etan.org. Returned volunteers or prospective volunteers who enjoy these stories might enjoy a site I frequent called thirdgoal.org.
Chronological blogs begin with the end. If you want the full effect start with the first post called Darwin. Poor bastards...
Good travels my friends,
Maka nee dizzle hau nia calizzle.
I have not slept for quite some time.My mind has started to play with the edges of reality. I am not tired.The sun is rising. Instead of watching it I sit on the top of our hotel’s roof and allow it to silhouette me.I stand at the edge of the roof; lift my arms and cast a long shadow onto Dilli.
The place is a ghost town.Everyone has left.There is no movement that I can see, even the roosters are dulled in their cries.It is too early in the morning, and too late by far.
I once sat near the Ministry Of Education in the cracked center of this city.I reached for a handful of dust to wipe my hands, a poor man’s sanitizer.There was ash in the dust.And I thought, “This is a city that knows how to burn.”
And the colors of dust and trash and stone slip like poetry in my head and I know what I want to say but have never had the words.I came here to experience a simpler, more authentic life and instead found this.This city.
Dilli, the garish gem in a discarded crown.A homely girl missing her two front teeth standing in too large spiked heels and trying not to be a child, afraid to smile, but never afraid to dance.And I’ve never liked cities.Born on a farm raised in the burbs I like the feel of air around me I like the space and the trees. But this place.
And though I am only two stories up, I have been awake long enough to dream the city, to see it all stretching before me.And there is where the urchins found me disconsolate and sang me a song.And there is where I saw a pig as large as a buffalo.There is the bar with the prettiest girls and there is the hostel with the books.And there is my office and there is the ministry and the training hall and the art commune.And will they all burn again?
I try to imagine it, Dilli in flames, burning, empty and alone.My mind puts the fire out.My mind fills the city with spring and flowers.I’m not sure if this is before, or after. Never? I see paved roads and sidewalks free of dust and trash.I see trees and flowers and well groomed dogs.People stop and chat under colored awnings and the urchins have school uniforms and notebooks.They are buying Dosi, with the ease of someone who knows there will be another nickel.And they are all, they are all Timorese.And I can’t look anymore.I open my eyes.
My colleagues are awake now. I can hear them packing and preparing to go.And I am lost.Ripped, rift and bereft.Raise a glass, raise a glass to the only city I have ever loved.To Dilli, may she never burn again.
I sat, silent, amazed at the beauty.I have been overwhelmed by the grandeur of this island, the beaches and the mountains and the sky.I have been shocked by the contrast between rich and poor and with the rush of hunger and anger.But this…
Last night.54 people were told that they are going home.That we are going home. That the plane is coming at 5 am.They yelled and sobbed and laughed and drank and danced.I wanted to be sober, untired for each moment.It has been long since I have wished I was born with no eyelids, with eyes on my hands, with no need to sleep.The moments here shine like dew in moonlight and I would not miss a single one.And so I stood apart, took vigil.
I gave myself excuses.There are rebels in the hills.What if they come, who will speak?Who will be able to?But my excuses sound hollow, they taste like bitter copper and cannot stand.I am grown old in age and protectiveness.This is my group.And so I watch as the selves my brothers and sisters put away 10 months ago came out.The light we have to shield in the presence of another culture poured forth and it is so bright.
There is a scene in a play called Our Town by Thorton Wilder.Our young woman Emily has died and is seeing the life she left behind.She asks the stage manager who stands aloof in his omniscience.“Does anyone realize life as they live it?Every, Every minute?” and he answers, “Saints and poets maybe. . .they do some.”
I watched as people cried and clung to each other one minute only to spin and stomp and scream the next.I wonder if they know how beautiful that connection is.How miraculous it was for them to come, unknowing here, to give up all just to try and help.No one can see that from the inside, leave it to hind sight and those without.I dipped in just a little, too greedy to resist.But I am too far gone, and see the shadow as well as the lights.I watched the doors and followed those who wandered out, making sure they made it to their rooms instead of braving the beach or the roads.I provided a shoulder for those inconsolable and a bag for the angry to punch.I watch and say to myself.No more.This is all they will have to stand.
Sometime during the night one of my sisters staggered up to me.She has put on lipstick.Her hair is conditioned and smells of apples.She is the person I met almost a year ago but she is more.I remember that we walked once skipping stones into the water and she told me of her dreams, her sweet ride.I remember her so angry that she slammed her fist into a wall and crumpled at the knees from the pain.I remember her dancing with children and how she smiled.“Do you think they know how much we love them?” She asked leaning on the table heavily.This is an outsider question and tonight I am an outsider.I shrugged.“Those fucks” she swore shaking the table “Those fucks!” And in the instant I hugged her I connected again.I held her up for a long moment as she breathed into my chest.
More people found me; sought me out in my corner.Raised a glass and told me the truths that people drunk on emotion cannot hide.They say that I helped them, that I was there for them. They remind me what I keep forgetting. That I am here. I am a part of this, brother, volunteer, author, mentor, liar, jerk.I am a part of something larger than myself.And I wish I had told her.I think. No. I believe that they do.
Hello everyone.You probably have been watching what’s going on here, or reading about it in the news.That means that you have more information than I do.What we have here is rumors.The only thing that is sure is that we are all consolidated in Dilli.The Peace Corps fears with a rebel leader armed in the hills that the one Airport that can get us safely home is in threat. Other organizations have already called things off and gone home.
The Peace Corps program in East Timor has been suspended.All volunteers will close service.If things quiet down some of us may be offered reenrollment.But this is very rare.Preparations are being made to evacuateus over the next couple of days to Bangkok where we will poked and prodded by doctors until we are fit to be released back into the wild.
I don’t know how this will be ended.Dilli is near deserted and we are closed up in a hotel called 2001, the same one we spent training in.We hear there is a rebel army in the hills, we hear they will come and burn this place to the ground.But our leaders say this is not likely.We are to remain vigilant and prepare for our close of service.
“Is rice, this.Is shit.Soldiers you know.. Is big.People Timor Weste is hate people Timore Leste.Is say, people Timore Leste is drunk is ugly is beat they wives is steal food.Timore Leste same.Say Timore Weste they is lazy, they is stupid, they is drink all time.Time always everything everything, this.But now is soldiers.Big with train from Austrailia.Timor weste soldiers, Timor leste soldiers.Is train is get guns.
Indonesia, good soldiers.Austrailia good soldiers, Timor shit.Everything Everything.Timor Weste say, why officer millitary, work, guard, march only only, no officer Timor weste.Timor Leste say you no good, no smart no officer.They fight, but people Austrailia see.Timor no can fight, Austrailia see. Now gone..
Kitchen, kitchen.Timor leste eat here.Timore Weste eat here-soldiers.Timor weste has rice pot.Timore leste have rice pot different place.Cook big plate rice feed everybody.Two, one timor leste one timor weste, pot pot different place.No eat together.Happy happy everything everything.Pot breaks Timore leste.Now people. Officer millitary no have rice, ema bott no rice.No problem, take pot timor weste.Now timor weste no rice.Eat rice, no cook. .Rice hard Timor Weste.Rice cook Timor leste.
Soldier Timor weste angry. Soldiers Timor Leste say is good you wait soon is good.But Timor Weste get up walk.March in Dilli.Go to president Sanana.Sayis rice, is work, is no fair.President he Timore leste.He says, you bad, you fired, go home.
Timore weste is angry, is shout.Isno fair.No go home.Have guns, they have doors, open doors.They go get guns.Go to hills.Shoot, baku bang! Burn!Now people scared. Everything Everything.
President he say come back.But people in hills no .Want scare people.Now houses burn.Tasi Tolu burns.Boom!
People Timor shit.Sometimes we go we burn.Sometimes we go we hide.Hide in hills before.Dilli burn before.People timor shit, no good!.Need people Austrailia.Part Austailia.Malae come good.We say yes sir!We work!
I haven’t told you guys about Eusabio.I have made it this far and considering our situation I almost made it the whole way.Damn.
Eusabio is an odious man.Truly, an awful guy.When I was in my terrible sales job if one of us reps ran into someone truly odious my boss would say, “You can’t teach a pig to dance, it frustrate you and it annoys the pig.”It was our way of saying, while you must sell everyone if one or two are awful we don’t want to do business with them.Eusabio fit into that category.
He was a teacher trainer in my first real training, or he wasn’t.He was there for the first couple of days then gave me an earful and disappeared.He wasn’t on the rolls with the ministry.This happens sometimes.There are itinerant Timorese who wander from training to training pretending to participants for food and training pay.
He was the type of person to sit in a training with his arms crossed and snort when heard something he didn’t like, and that was always.The first thing he said to me was while he was as he stormed out.His English was pretty good.“This never work, never.People here shit, no good!You think it works but you Malae we want you think that. You money, always money.”
And then he was gone.
I saw him again at a Malae bar in Dilli right after Christmas.He was either drunk or stoned; a short man with a thick but ill kept moustache.I didn’t recognize him but he recognized me.“This Malae he buys me beer! You remember Malae is Eusabio.Good training.Good cakes!” I bought him a beer and he proceeded to tell me that the Timorese people were shit and things here would never work.He was in favor of annexation by Australia.“They come here, we go-we say Yes Sir, everything, everything!We work!Thing work.They leave, now shit.”I walked away after paying for his beer.I was in a hard enough spot without listening to that stuff.
I haven’t brought him up because if I start focusing on negative things I catch a spiral right back to can’t sleep-ville.There is an element of his externalized self hatred here in Timor.“We’re shit, things are not good, we’re no good”.But never have I seen it concentrated with such vigor.
I ran into Eusabio again today.
I was on my way back from Baucau.It was our final call.Come in to Dilli.Most of these end in evacuation; just a matter of signing the papers.We caught a sweet ride with Jessie’s NGO.I hopped off on the outskirts of Dilli because I saw Alfonzo, my consultant, and I needed some time.
Alfonzo and I talked, he had a DVD player in one hand and a bag in another.His family was already gone and he was going to take his motor scooter out as soon as he had tied up some loose ends.Did I want to come and see his house?You know, before?The question hung in the air. I was supposed to be in the Peace Corp Headquarters NOW.But I decided to take the time.“Great” he says and hops on his scooter ”I will be right back here.”
And here wasn’t a bad place to wait.There was a mass exodus of Dilli going on.Buses and trucks teeming with people, pigs and goats strapped to the side all manners of valuables from mattresses to television strapped to the top.I stayed at the side of the road almost out of sight.There were indicators of trouble all around, the corner vendor for phone cards was selling them at double their value.The beer vendor had slashed his prices and was waiting to get rid of his stock so he could stash his cart and leave.
And as I waited for Alfonzo to come back someone shouted my name, well Malae.It was Eusabio, rumpled and damp in the humidity.He had a huge pillowcase for a bag, it looked to be filled with packets of cigarettes, nesquick mix a coffee and bottled water.He had a katana at his side.
“Malae!Malae!” and he is approaching me; I have nowhere to hide.He takes me by the hand and leads me to the beer vendor.“He is buying me tiger half price.” The beer vendor is already selling his wares for half but soon Eusabio had one for a quarter.It was hard to stand in the way of someone so dedicated I paid for the beer. I started to walk away. He had already drained a good portion of the beer and began to castigate me.
“Now we is burning we is hiding. all malaes they go. Other malaes they come is have guns.Is shit. Is no good.”
We were in the shade of a large tree, I had only been waiting ten minutes so I turned and pulled out my pipe and took a seat.Eusabio was worked up.I listened to his ramblings until I found a suitable ride in.Alfonzo had taken too long.I wish I had stayed for more.At the end Eusabio had gotten another beer off me and was shouting as I got into a taxi.The driver told me he was crazy and then quoted me a price for in Dilli travel ten times what it had been the week before.I didn’t argue.I have no ideas what below is true.
Please do not take my attempt to write broken English as anything but what it, is the best I can do.
There are some crazy thing going on here in Timor.I am in a place called Baucau.Jumar has called to say goodbye.He says that there is a mass exodus going on in Dilli. That it is no longer safe.The Peace Corps are with the embassy working out what to do next.You may have heard about some shooting and violent riots.We are currently unaware who is actually in control of the government.
If you are worried, that is good.Worried is good, prayers are good.Fear or panic I would say are not necessary.The peace corps has forty years of experience in this sort of things and will back us up with force if necessary.We are safe.The talk in the streets here in Baucau is more scared and sad than angry.Huge buses are coming in loaded with pigs and goats and people.I imagine Dilli as a ghost town by now.
Soon we will hop a truck and head right into the heart of it.Back to my city and I will see what has happened to her.I don’t know when I will write next but I will write.Until then remember that we are safe.We are protected.Try to get some sleep.
If you do pray, spare one for the people of the city of Dilli.They do not have an organization to come and get them.No plane will come to take them someplace safer.
No reason I bring this up moms.Okay, that’s not true. Well, this may be the last time I get to a computer proper so let’s put our cards on the table.I’m up late, Travis and Rebekah have passed out with Jay.We are in a situation where we are no longer allowed to move freely about the country.So I’ll be in Same for a while.
I would put details about why that has happened here but I am getting a lot of different stories.Two volunteers have texted me saying they heard Dilli is in flames.Jane from the clinic texted and told me not to try and get to Tibar because something was going down in the way station called Tasi Tolu. She used the word grenade.
Jumar and Duarte are being recalled by the UN.But I cannot leave with them.People in Same are tense, but nothing is going on here.
So let’s have a cheerful chat just in case.No, not a last will and testament. . . To my brother I leave my ridiculous clown pants.No.Let’s talk about what happens when a country goes tits up and the Peace Corps needs to get out of there.There is a system, and there are people who are trained to execute it.Remember the Peace Corps has not lost a person in an evacuation for a very long time.It’s all by the books.
First, what is an evacuation?Well I only know what we were trained in.I’m not sure what the decision making process is.But what happens is that all of the Volunteers are evacuated to a nearby, Peace Corps friendly country.For us that would be Australia.
But there are steps to be followed.I’ll describe them below.
First there is an Alert:An alert is something that the country director or security officer can put the country on, it means have a heightened awareness but continue on with your day.
Second there is Stand Fast.In a stand fast situation Peace Corps volunteers are required to stay in their site.This may be used in a large country when one area is in civil unrest but no Peace Corps volunteers are there, or if the roads become unsafe.Volunteers on the road, like myself, are handled on a case by case basis.In this instance I am staying right here in Same because the rumors are emanating from the place I spend most of my time.
Step three is Consolidation.We have this in two stages.There is district consolidation and country consolidation.District Consolidation calls all volunteers to their nearest consolidation center.These were chosen for their ease of access and historical safety.District consolidation points are furnished with extra food, water, medical supplies and cash;enough for a siege.This site is usually the home of one of the longer term volunteers.When we get a consolidation call we make our excuses pack a bag and go.
Country consolidation means do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, get to Peace Corps headquarters in Dilli.Every volunteer has a consolidation bag with necessities that they can grab and run.
In the case of a consolidation all bets are off.All Peace Corps rules are superseded by the need to get to a place where we can be safe.We are allowed to offer great gobs of cash to rent a car.We can drive, we can buy and use a motor cycle or steal a horse or travel at night.Any route is open, constant contact is mandated.In the worst case the helicopters with embassy marines will come and get us.
History has told us that the situations that lead to a country consolidation are extreme.The process is costly and it is rare that they are not the precursor to a full country evacuation.
We got the stand fast call last night.This came along with the calls to Jumar from the UN headquarters and his boss.Duarte and Jumar were called back in and we said good bye as if it was good bye.That was tough.And then they drove off.Jay is here.
As a show of faith Travis and I have decided to build a desk out of bamboo.We are taking a break.Even as I write this he has become frustrated with something in the house.When he gets frustrated he throws things in the back yard.“To the back yard with you!” he yells and something flies out the door and off the porch.Today it has been a couch pillow, a broken chair and a pair of pliers.He is nervous.
Rebekah sits straighter than usual her hand is on her chin, she is biting her lip.She is nervous.
And I am a goddamn wreck.Not sure when I get to post this.One bit of good news, Jumar considers my stand fast time, district time and he paid me my total per deim in cash before heading in, including an anticipated five days.So I’m a very rich man.And I am in a place with a Warung.Sitting here isn’t doing any good I’m going to take these rangy strangers out to lunch.
With the Standfast in Same and little access to internet the blog sort of fell apart.Not that I stopped writing, I just didn’t have the ability to post it.And with everything that was happening it became increasingly difficult to keep up with e-mails home and also a coherent narrative.The below is cobbled together from e-mails, half written posts and memory.
I was stood in Same with a fist full of cash, the first time it was for two days.We kept ourselves busy building a desk and swimming in one of the fast flowing streams.I kept pushing the Peace Corps for information and none was forthcoming so I turned to my UN contacts and the Australians.They told me there had been some violence in the city.That people were leaving and there were rebels in the hills.But each of them had a different story.
Things quieted down and the UN was allowed to move around again while the Peace Corps was still on stand fast.I convinced Nina that one far flung district was just like another and she allowed me to travel onto our next port of call, provided Duarte drove me.The next morning Duarte arrived eager to get on his way.He told me that Tasi Tolu, the bus station between Tibar and Dilli, had indeed burned. He thought it was a tribal feud and not rebels.
We packed up our gear and headed further into the districts.I was really looking forward to the next site.Troy and Tabitha were some of my groups most dedicated and selfless volunteers.Because of my tendency to grab a big metal pole and stand in the lightning they had always steered clear of me.But when I sat down in a nice shirt and spoke competently about Entrepreneurs they approached me and invited me to their site.
They were working on a movie night.Ten cents per visitor, affordable for almost any family, The people who came would get a nice snack and a movie played on one of the largest Tv’s in town.The only catch, and the reason Troy and Tabitha were doing this at a loss, was that the audience had to listen to a lesson about health or economic development.
Their site was as far out as Moun Dylans in the mountain, it took them a full two days of travel to get back to the capitol city.When I went to Hatibaliko Dylan and I had walked the most treacherous parts of the road.Duarte drove them like we were running from a shot gun wedding in Hazard county.We would fly around curves only to find ourselves presented with a total collapse of one lane and nothing but sheer drop where the guard rail had been.Other times we would be driving around a curve and I would see where the pavement had been laid on top of a soft rock that was eroding from underneath, so the whole thing had melted to one side like a vinyl record left on a radiator.It was harrowing.Duarte’s cheerful singing only served to make it more so.
The ride ended abruptly.A 200’ four lane suspension bridge had dropped about 16’ of it’s pavement into the chasm below.I had never seen anything like it. This was a fully modernized bridge, and we could see the yellow lines on the asphalt slab that had collapsed resting 60’below.There was no way to cross.A large group of Timorese people stood on either side of the chasm looking down and shouting things across to each other.Duarte called in the development and we found out that the only other route would take us around to the other side of the island an additional travel time of 16 hours.So I called Troy and Tabitha and made my apologies.
Duarte and I headed back but as we approached Same again I got a call.The stand fast was reinstated.
This time it was four days. The first day we waited, polled our fellow volunteers and contacts for news. The next night we bought beer and danced to Ricky Martin so thoroughly that Jay put his ass through a glass table.The third day we explored Samé.
By now things had changed.Truckloads of people were coming and staying with family.The restaurants became crowded and the markets became packed.We stayed out of sight at night but wandered around during the day.Jay had a special talent for finding people drinking.It was like this double edged gift from god.He had gone wandering off during the day, and when we texted him he just said he was alright not to worry.
This was the third day.We were seeing more and more people carrying Katanas in the street and loud music would play all night.Everyone had a theory about what was happening in Dilli.But no one would really talk to us unless we were buying something.I had often felt unsafe in Timor, but it was mostly driving and animals, I had never felt unsafe around people until that night.
Travis, Rebekah and I were walking home from the market, we had purchased enough vegetables to make spaghetti, and even found tiny fresh tomatoes.As we crossed over into their neighborhood Jays voice rang out.
“Hey! , Ya’ll come over here sit a spell have some Tuaa.”Jay had waved whatever magic wand allowed him to conjure up people with too much alcohol and time on their hands.He had invited himself to a Joven drinking party.We went into the house, the only real adult there was an old man who had suffered a stroke.The boys had covered one of the walls with a Che Guevera flag.
I am sadly lacking in the memory of this encounter.I remember the boys, in increasingly loud voices telling us that the people of Timor were bad.That they would kill each other, burn themselves. That they needed Austrailia to come back and make things peaceful again.One boy kept pointing to the old man, who had soiled himself, and asking if we had medicine.And I remember saying over and over that we did not.I don’t remember how we got out of there except that at one point two boys were blocking the door and insisting it was not safe to go outside because it was dark now.
We left Jay and headed back to Rebekah and Travis’ house.We cooked the spaghetti and told stories to distract ourselves.Jay eventually showed up and wondered why we had wandered away.The next day Duarte arrived and I got permission to return to Tibar.
We went through a check point on the way back down the mountain breezing through as several other cars and trucks were being searched.We were seeing more and more people packed in Angunas heading away from Dilli.
I convinced Duarte, this wasn’t hard, to stop in Balibar and visit my family there.When Joaon saw me he gave me a hug.We sat and sipped coffee.Balibar was peaceful but there were a lot of people in the Aldea I had never seen before.When I asked what had happened in Dilli he said I should not worry.I was not a part of what was going on.I asked him if he was scared and he shrugged his shoulders and grinned.
As I had been doing each time I visited I went to drop the tobacco I had left over in the small wooden box he kept for his cigarettes.I had been slipping five dollar bills in with it, this was never spoken of between us.Over the course of the year I had maybe hidden 25 dollars there.When I would come back the money would be gone.This time I put a twenty deep within the box.As I walked away from it Joaon took my hand and shook it.We held hands and he patted me on my chest.“We are family, you are like my family.We miss you here.”I let the handshake linger wishing I had more words.
Duarte and I went back up to the car and drove.We passed two more armed check points on the way into Dilli.And when we had taken the turn towards Tibar I saw that Tasi Tolu had indeed burned.The materials they use to build houses in Timor burn ugly. Blackened sheets of warped corrugated metal and baebuk spikes jutted up.Either the fire had burned down or been put out.One the way out of Dilli we passes the Uma Lu Lik (house of magic) a spiritual house.It was a thatched house on stilts with a ladder.This was the place where President Clinton had come to speak after the independence.There was a crowd of people, some praying others standing and a man on the steps speaking.I realized that I had never seen a person near this shrine in my time in Timor.
Duarte took a moment to talk with Seiko Metan who was sitting with a group of people on the dirt of his front lawn, his big katana restign on his knees.And when he came back he told me not to worry.That I was safe.
I spent two days in Tibar stood fast in my home.It did not occur to me to pack or prepare.I’m not sure why.Things quieted down and now volunteers returned to alert.We were allowed to continue our work as long as we did not come to Dilli.When I talked with Gene he told me that it looked like things would be okay and I should continue to prepare for my curriculum insertion.So I did.
The next day I found out that Jumar had contacted Duarte and worked out a deal that allowed me to continue my travel.I had to agree to stay in the car during my time in Dilli but when we had crossed through it I could continue to Baucau (Bow-Cow).Tasi Tolu was still a wreck and the military base that occupied the west side of Dilli seemed deserted.We went through three armed check points, there were people in the streets but they did not seem interested in us.I saw something I had not seen before.Only a couple of them, long sharpened spears. There were also a lot more of the Lu Lik amulets that the Timorese use to protect them from harm being worn outside of shirts.
Durarte took me as far a Mana Tu-tu. then turned back.I got to spend a little time with Lisa and Sash.They had out of site days and we were only on alert so they called into get permission and we headed off to Baucau.It was about two in the afternoon.
We caught a sweet ride with a rice truck and with the wind in our hair things seemed almost normal.We talked about my time in Same and Ainaro, they shared their adventures and what they had heard about the troubles in Dilli.A big question was whether the president would remain in charge or if he had left the country.We didn’t know.Half way between ManaTu-tu and Baucau we got another stand fast.We were instructed to head farther from the capitol city and ended up visiting the volunteers there under different circumstances.
He lived in a large house with a family, there was room enough in his room for us all.As we prepared for dinner we got a mass text from the volunteers in the farther districts. They were being instructed to consolidate.Sarah China texted to say that she had been picked up without warning and not even been allowed to say goodbye to her family.Sarah Prima was coming down the mountain at break neck speed in a Peace Corps vehicle.I texted the Peace Corps but got no response to direct queries.
We knew what was happening.The next day was calm, there were a lot of people standing around in groups and the market was packed with refugees. There was food and water, and the weather was not awful.We started to prepare for our trip into Dilli, first phone cards then clearing out our bank accounts.
In an attempt to get more information, the circular texts between volunteers had run dry, I texted Genes assistant Anne.She did not reply.I gave her an hour and decided to be a jerk.
I texted this:“Tc in Baucau looking for an update.Not to worry I’m happy to call the Embassy and ask them.”
I got a personal phone call two minutes later.
“Mr. Clarke I do not like threats.”
“I haven’t given you any Anne.I’mlooking for information.We got several volunteers out here and we know that people are being consolidated to Dilli. We just want to know what we should be preparing for.”
“Tell people they should be making sure their consolidation bags are in order.We will be giving a group update today at noon.”
And so I did.We got the call at noon as promised.Consolidate in Dilli keep us appraised of your progress.And that was it.We were on our way.This was the first of many days when I ceased to be tired, when I did not sleep.
And that’s when I had time to start writing my blog again.
As I sit in the back of a school in Timor I am grasped by one of my small passions; writing my name on things. A form of proof, that I was once somewhere and. . .had a pen?
Sitting in one of the larger desks I have plenty of room to write my name on the leg out of the view of the other students. As I study the desk I realize that as far as my passion is concerned I am far from alone. The desk is marred with names and dates; words and Tetun, Bahasa, and English. The walls are also covered to about 5 feet in scrawls and words and drawings.
Graffiti in many of its forms interests me. Having traveled most of the United States and stopping at every tourist trap on the way, I have become an old hand at reading while going to the bathroom.
The walls of truck stops are of particular meaning to me. There is no paper in America that has a better advertisement section the walls of a long time truck stop bathroom. Pictures and drawings and scrawled phone numbers. There is racism and fear there as well; misogyny, anti-Semitism. But if you look long enough and ignore the blaring black marker you often find poetry of the kind I like. I once ran into a burgeoning poet while working my way from Florida to North Carolina. I noticed his simple verse in Orlando and by North Carolina he was taking up more and more space with something that approached art. I wish I had continued north and seen what he was writing by Maine.
In America a bathroom wall is a place to throw out lines looking for someone who might understand or agree. Or start fights. I have always enjoyed graffiti fights, mostly in bars near urinals. "Mike was here", "Mike is an asshole", "Mike will kick your ass", "Mike can't find me because he's an asshole" and so on.
In Timor most the bathrooms are made of baebuck, from spiky Palm fronds laid together and pierced. It does not give a good surface for writing. The schools are different, they have white walls made for graffiti.This one is dominated by the artist and an English enthusiast named Maccom. Right above my desk Maccom has written "this is a place for meeting" and further towards the corner of the room he has written "this is a place for me to be meeting alone"
I have no good psychological understanding of graffiti. I imagine one could be made between the difference in the American graffiti and those found in other countries. I believe that there is a reason we have the phrase, "He couldn't see the writing on the wall."
Here in Timor.There are no symbols; little hearts or pluses or minuses.No skulls or swastikas or lightning bolts. Just names, and little drawings of things that exist. There are no professions of love or accusations of such. Just doodles. Is this a mind at peace? Orone that has not fully comprehend its own capacity. I wonder if the children start playing games if this will change. It is a tenet of a collectivist society to group instead of standing alone.Entrepreneurship is all about standing alone.
I do not know the political or sociological ramifications of trying to encourage individualism in a society that values the family more than person, but I know there are sparks of that great independent fire out there. Maccomsticks to trees and pig faces rendered in a squarish hand.But there, by the edge, is a whorl of shapes.An abstract; to me it looks like it is trying to be the curve of a woman’s back. I wonder if he saw it too.
Maccom is not my favorite graffiti artist. That title belongs to someone who calls himself Jonn, King of Mongki.
I think I would not mind going into business with Jonn King of Mongki. I think he's got some of the delusions of grandeur that fuel entrepreneurs during the long nights of work. My favorite piece by him, of the 12 scattered in and about Dilli, is one in which a very tiny Timorese teenager is trying desperately to escape from the enormous ass crack of a bright green sumo wrestler. He has his head and one arm free and he looks as if he's about to hook a foot and struggle on. This drawing is within a stone’s throw of the ministry of education. And I like to think that its placement is no coincidence.
Here we go.“Tc was here. This is a place for me to be meeting myself”
My next port of call is Same to visit a married couple, Travis and Rebecca.Same is another example of a mountain city.It has electricity and running water.There is a restaurant and a standing market called a Loja.Travis and Rebekah live in large house with a nice covered porch and a lush green lawn.
The house came furnished with chairs and tables and a couch.They get by without a television.Each of them has a touch of the artist.Travis is writing children’s stories and learning to play guitar and Rebekah draws.This is the first location where we will be starting the curriculum in a pilot school.Travis has agreed to be a volunteer mentor.Rebekah works with a health NGO but wishes she had more to do as well.
They take me on a tour of the town.They are more well known than the volunteers In Ainaro.I have arrived late in the evening.Jumar introduces himself and then goes to the rooms he and Duarte have arranged.I stay with the volunteers.
The next day we head to the school.All of us, in the white land rover. The mentoring program is more important than ever because I have found out that our expected budget is much smaller than the one we had planned for. We need big results or we will have to spend our time finding other backers.
The school is older than the one in Same, perhaps it survived the fires in 2001.The schools mascot is a fish on a book with a pencil in its mouth.No one finds this as hilarious as I do.Our being there is much anticipated and the teacher who attended our training is nervously waiting with his principal and all the children from the school.
Jumar gives a short speech in Bahasa and I follow him up in broken Tetun.We introduced Travis and Rebekah to the Entrepreneurial Teacher and explain their role.He looks much relieved.
Soon it is just our team, the teacher and a class room full of children.It is our first live fire test of the curriculum.The teacher begins to flounder and Viriato, our consultant steps in.He begins to teach helping the teacher over the rough spots.And the children are getting it.We get to one of the simple games and they start to grin.It is working, not well, but it is working.
And I sit in the back of the class in a ridiculously small desk grinning.Wishing I had more hands with which to pat myself on the back.