Last Sunday, Pat and I went snorkelling at Back Beach behind the Jesus statue, as we’ve done on many a Sunday morning in the last two years. Later, we wandered around to the next bay. A high stone wall has appeared on the cliff edge. It won’t be long before the view of Atauro Island is commandeered by whichever ema boot (big-wig) is building a house on that beautiful spot.
The beaches and hills of Dili have sustained us during our two-year stint. You can see the Jesus statue (Cristo Rei) at the end of the point, and Atauro Island in the distance.
Behind us work had begun on a five-star tourist resort; across the water, new dirt roads zigzagged over the hills, heralding more exclusive development. We agreed that we’ve been lucky to be in Timor at this time. A time of optimism, in spite of all its problems. A peaceful time, sandwiched between the turmoil of the past and the creeping inequality that casts a shadow over the future. Continue reading →
I never expected to end up teaching creative writing in Timor, least of all in the national language, Tetun. But every Wednesday morning for the last six months, I’ve sat in a windowless room in the former Balide prison in Dili doing exactly that with a team of social researchers.
My four male and two female students have interviewed 800 Timorese women about their roles in the 25-year resistance movement. An academic book is in the pipeline. Now their boss, Nuno, a journalist, wants to share the women’s personal stories. When he discovered my oral history and writing background, he asked me to give them a hand.
Members of my creative writing class. From left, clockwise: Nuno, Justin, Alito, Este and Polan.
Enlisting my help was a big leap of faith on Nuno’s part. I have no teaching experience, and running a class in a language I couldn’t speak 20 months ago is, frankly, a challenge. So how does it work?
Christmas is a big deal in Catholic Timor. On the side of the road In every village and neighbourhood, young people build Prezepiu (Nativity scenes) that include life-size religious figures, coloured lights and music. Once the Prezepiu is completed, they guard it round the clock until 6 January, proudly welcoming visitors, photographs and contributions.
Church, family, food, singing and dancing are the staple ingredients of Christmas Day here, with thousands of people travelling from Dili to their home districts on rickety buses and motorbikes.
Tomorrow we join the exodus home to family and friends in New Zealand. Thanks to all of you who have followed our blog this year. We greatly appreciate your interest, comments and support. We’ll be spending a month recharging our batteries before returning to Timor towards the end of January 2014. In the meantime, click through these photos that capture the spirit of Christmas in Dili.
Feliz Natal/Happy Christmas
Pip and Pat
At World Vision, Pat’s workplace, the Christmas party is all about the kids.
Bright smiles from the boys at the Christmas party.
Girls perform a sassy dance at the Christmas party.
Kids line up for a Christmas present from Amelia Xavier (Melly), Pat’s exuberant counterpart at World Vision.
The Timorese know how to put on a good spread.
Pip makes buttered toast, a big treat for the kids at the Christmas party.
World Vision staff in singing mode.
A shop full of Christmas decorations, the brighter the better. The Christmas trees could be recycled as bottle brushes.
Markets and street stalls have sprung up around Dili to meet the demand for new clothes, a must for Christmas Day.
Another Christmas tree goes up at a Dili roundabout.
Kids from our family compound gather round a mini Prezepiu (Nativity scene) in our front yard.
Ino (left) manager of Gembel, the arts collective where I teach English, checks on Rocki’s paint-mixing. The young men are making and painting life-size figures for Prezepiu (Nativity scenes) around Dili..
A Christmas hive of industry at Gembel.
An elaborate Prezepiu with life-size Wise Men visiting the newborn Jesus on the side of a Dili street.
This brightly-lit Prezepiu, complete with Father Christmas, has been built just outside our gate by young men in our neighbourhood.
Another neighbourhood Prezepiu with its own distinctive style.
A mother and daughter join the nativity scene in front of the Governor’s Palace in Dili.
The giant Christmas tree in front of the Governor’s Palace in Dili.
Not to be outdone, VSA volunteers in Timor enjoy a Christmas drink in the Sky Garden overlooking Dili. Merry Christmas!