Standing On The Outside Looking In

Tonight, after dinner, we somehow found ourselves at a small local bar in Dili. We were the only women. And the only malae (foreigners).

The bar was playing loud Latin American music. An incredibly drunk old man was dancing alone on the footpath. Around a dozen other men sat on plastic chairs outside the bar, drinking, laughing and talking.

It was the music that stopped us; made us stare.

It was the men who welcomed us, gave us seats, beers and asked us where we were from. They wanted to know why we were in Timor, welcomed us to their country, and asked us to dance.

I spoke with the owner, who thankfully could speak English. My Tetun is so incredibly basic.

He said we should stay for a drink and come back anytime. At this bar, he told me, everyone is happy. Always happy, always laughing, always dancing. Happy 24/7.

He told me that they don’t get very many malae at the bar. I asked him why, since it seemed like such a fun, happy place.

Malae, he told me, don’t seem to want to be happy. They work too hard, and don’t dance, laugh or relax enough.

I’ve had these moments in so-called “developing” countries before. The moments that make me question what I’m doing. The moments that make me wonder if development, my chosen field, leads people to life that is less simple, less happy. The moments that make me wonder if “they” have it right, and “we” have it wrong.

There is, what I think to be, a misconception about people in developing countries – a belief that misery abounds because they don’t have dual flush toilets, flat screen TV’s and iPhones.

I often find the opposite.

I don’t have the answers and I’m not sure if there are any. Maybe “we” have it right, maybe “they” do.

But, for tonight, I didn’t need answers.

 I had happiness.

And about a dozen new Timorese friends.




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