This blog takes its name from a quote from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s autobiography, Living History.
“I believe that the people and places are important, and what I learned from them is part of who I am today.”
Timor-Leste, for me, has been a million little places within one place:
There’s my bedroom, with its thin-yet-lumpy mattress, that somehow also doubles as a workspace. The sheets don’t match, or fit the mattress. My pillow is covered with cartoon animals and phrases that don’t quite make sense. Photos of my friends and family decorate the walls; along with useful phrases in Tetun and a daily schedule I made for myself that has proven to be completely useless. The page for Tuesday’s fell down a week ago. I haven’t put it back up. The windows, with metal bars and wire mesh instead of glass panes, look out over the yard and the neighbour’s fence. More often than not, the view is complete with chickens, roosters or dogs that are just passing through.
There’s my house, with its big front porch where we spend most of our time. The kitchen, which isn’t always functional, is usually decorated by an array of geckos on the walls. There are two bathrooms – one dubbed Soviet, due to its drabness and the other, Paradise, thanks to its colourful walls – where every shower is a gamble. Will the pressure be okay(ish), or just a few drips? Will the water actually be hot? How many mosquitos will I have to fend off while shampooing my hair? The yard, with its ever-present animal visitors, is filled with trees and pot plants. There’s the red front gate, upon which one of the neighbourhood kids has scribbled “do not enter this house” in Tetun, which might have been threatening if it were on the right side of the gate. The gate is rarely closed for long with neighbours coming in to collect fruit or to round up their chickens, or kids coming over to see what we’re doing.
There’s my street; literally a street with no name. It’s long, the road is gravel and we’re at the very end. As we leave or return home we pass by a number of other houses, some brightly coloured, some with an assortment of pot plants, all very clean. There are multiple potholes that fill up rapidly whenever it rains, causing huge puddles and the nonsensical graffiti on the wall near the street entry. There’s the fallen tree that seems to serve as a meeting place for adults and a playground for the kids. Then, of course, there are the ubiquitous dogs. The dogs that growl at you at night, but not in the day. The dogs that are covered in so many fleas and ticks that you can’t tell if they have black spots, or are just severely infested. The dogs that have no particular breed, and are always just… there.
There’s the suburb I live in, Bidau Lecidere, which is part of the city of Dili. Dili, with its strange one way streets that don’t have signs, but where people (mostly) seem to follow some kind of rules. With its dusty streets, that often flood when it rains. The streets that are filled with people selling fruit, vegetables, phone credit, plastic storage containers, and Timorese flags. The streets that have large potholes and the sidewalks that have openings in them that are more like gaping chasms, threatening to swallow unsuspecting pedestrians.
Then, of course, there’s the rest of Timor-Leste; the districts. From the white stretches of pristine coastline, to the plunging limestone cliffs and the rolling green hills lined with rice paddies and dotted with water buffalo and goats. Hidden among them all are villages, filled with people going about their lives. I’ve visited several of the districts in the three months that I’ve been here. Bacau, with its draw-droppingly beautiful beaches; Ermera, home to the best coffee in the southern hemisphere, and Viqueque, surrounded by incredible limestone cliffs and mountains. Each district is unique, each with its own flavour so to speak, but all are equally as picturesque.
Timor, for me, has been so many places. Places that have been important, and places that have taught me things I never knew I could learn.