I was recently told that Timor is the land of Maybe.
Maybe the supermarket will be selling plain milk today. But they may have run out, so maybe not.
Maybe today will be the day I will finally get my visa. But they may have lost my application again, so maybe not.
Maybe we will go to the districts this weekend. But it may rain so hard that our yard floods, so maybe not.
Yesterday, however, I was told a different kind of maybe.
I was telling my Timorese kolega (friend) that his country hurts my brain. It baffles me, and not because of the maybe’s. It’s because of the extreme kindness, friendliness and generosity I’ve experienced here.
Maybe, he said, you’ve just been lucky. Maybe.
Timor-Leste is a country that has seen no end of foreign occupations. From the Portuguese colonisation, to the Indonesian occupation, and then the NGO/foreign assistance invasion. Following Independence, aid workers from Australia, Ireland and everywhere in between poured into this tiny nation. They came to provide help, but often overstepped the boundaries, taking over and essentially running the country. The Timorese have had very little opportunity to run their own country and their interactions with malae (foreigners) hasn’t always been pleasant.
It was because of this that I tried to prepare myself for a modicum of hostility – I am potentially yet another Westerner coming in to tell the people what they’re doing wrong.
I’ve found nothing but the total opposite.
Our neighbours tell us that we are familia (family).
We visited the district of Ermera last weekend for Palm Sunday with a friend of a friend. We were given transport to and from Dili, provided with our own rooms in the family home, were fed every two hours, and were presented with beautiful tais (traditional cloths) as a welcome and thank you during Mass.
I had to visit the Chefe de Suco, who is the Chief of the local area, to get a letter stating that I am an upstanding resident of my community for my visa (the ever-ongoing saga). Immigration couldn’t tell me where to locate the Chefe. A Timorese friend of a friend knows a man that lives in my neighbourhood. The next thing I know, this man – a total stranger – is meeting us, driving us to see the Chefe, staying for the meeting and explaining what I need, and driving us to Immigration before bringing the letter from the Chefe to us four hours later. Just because he could.
The Timorese are, without a doubt, some of the most welcoming, helpful and friendly people I’ve ever encountered, despite all that they have been through. Or maybe because of what they’ve been through. I don’t know.
Maybe my friend is right. Surely not all Timorese people can be so generous and gracious. Maybe I have just been lucky.
Then again, this is Timor-Leste. So maybe it’s not just luck after all.