The trouble with travel

Every day in Dili is hotter than the last. The wind gets up in the afternoon and clouds gather over the burnt hills, only to disperse. It’s late in the dry season, no rain for months. My skirt sticks to my legs like gladwrap. Dust coats the trees, the furniture, my feet. Even the sky looks like it could do with a mop.

A shack perched on the burnt hills of Dili at the end of the dry season

A hut perched on a barren Dili hillside late in the dry season.

And yet, after four weeks in the United States visiting our son Liam and his fiancée Aurora, it’s good to be back. No high-rise buildings or the roar of six-lane freeways. No designer clothes stores. No neon lights. Just streets full of people, beat-up taxis, skinny dogs, kids galore. Good-natured chaos interspersed with pockets of progress and, sometimes, desperation. Continue reading

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Peacekeeping in Maliana

I haven’t seen an animal slaughtered since I worked in Petone’s freezing works in the 1970s. Killings there were quick and the sacrifice I saw a few weeks ago in the mountains of Timor was equally humane.

A man thrust a foot-long knife straight into a goat’s heart, just below its left shoulder. The animal kicked and squealed but was bound tight by two other men – one held its back legs and another held a rope around its neck. Blood gurgled from the goat’s mouth and then it was still.

Elders in traditional costume gather to accept the sacrificial goat.

Elders in traditional costume gather to accept the sacrificial goat.

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Endangered dream

Tensions in Dili have risen lately. Around 9pm on 24 September two guys on a motorbike went mad with machetes. They slashed several people. One died. Police commander Longhuinos Monteiro put up a message on Facebook, warning everyone in Timor to stay home after dark. He signed it ‘Big hugs and good night’. Somehow this made me feel more vulnerable.

Timor Police Commander Longhuinos Monteiro dances with Prosecutor General Ana Pessoa.

Timor Police Commander Longhuinos Monteiro on the dance floor with Prosecutor General Ana Pessoa.

UN security warnings came out daily. Our landlord added a chain to the padlock on the gate of our family compound. Police set up checkpoints all over the city. They confiscated dodgy motorbikes on the spot and jailed their owners for up to 72 hours if they couldn’t produce the right documents. One VSA volunteer had his bike seized because its exhaust was too noisy. Continue reading