Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page
Tuesday, day 16
Because my music project hasn’t quite started yet, my imagination is getting caught up in other local events. On Friday last week (day 12) the burned-out car wreck sitting at the back of the block beside us got towed. A bright yellow tow truck reversed up the laneway, the local men attached a rope to the car wreck, and everyone turned out to watch the spectacle of it being towed away. All the children clamoured to help.
The local men have also been busy on the block, chopping down trees, digging holes, exposing pipes. We aren’t sure if the infrequent water supply we had last week is due to this activity, or completely unrelated.
I’ve been spending time in the inner suburb of Vila-Verde lately, which is where Mana Er lives, and where the Immigration Department office for visa extensions is located. It’s also where the Cathedral is, and I took this photo while I waited for a bus back home the other day. The sky was darkening with impending rain, so the sunlight was particularly intense.
I’ve found that catching taxis is a good way to practice my Tetun conversation, because taxi drivers tend to ask questions on all the topics that you cover in language classes – where are you from, what are you doing here, are you married, have children, etc. In Dili, a man’s taxi is clearly an extension of his personality and public identity (the way some men’s t-shirts are in Australia, perhaps), and they tend to be highly decorated with small stuffed toys, doilies and mats, pictures cut from magazines, additional little stick-on mirrors, and a vast array of air fresheners.
Our landlords are keeping a bull in the backyard. We are quite fond of the bull although he is getting progressively skinnier which is sad. He is originally from Lospalos. We hope for his sake he will get to return to Lospalos soon because there isn’t much grass left for him to eat here. Meanwhile, here is a picture of him in the backyard at night-time, standing beside the satellite dish.
Monday, day 15
This is the cry that greets you wherever you go in Dili – maybe even in Timor. Malae means ‘foreigner’ and it is what someone who looks foreign (in particular those with Western, European features) gets called. Older people might comment on it to each other as you walk past (“ Hey look, a malae riding a bicycle”), but younger children – particularly the under-7s – have a way of rushing to the side of the road and shrieking “Ma-LAE!” at the top of their voices. I’m writing the second half of the word in upper case because that is the way the inflection and emphasis seems to go, getting higher pitched and much louder until it is a squeal of excitement for the second syllable.
It’s pretty funny. Groups of kids will egg each other on, so that the cries of “malae” will still be going long after you have passed. Very young children are well-trained in yelling “Malae!” at the white-faced foreigners, but tend to get incredibly shy when you smile in response and greet them, or ask “Diak ka lae?” (How are you?) At the second-hand clothes stall the other day, one little tyke in his sister’s arms squealed “Malae” at me, but wriggled his head into her neck when I stopped to greet him. His sister was laughing at him. “You don’t need to be scared,” I told him reassuringly in my excellent Tetun. “I’m just a malae. La bele moe!” [=No need to be shy]. But he continued to duck his gaze, until I said my good-byes. At that point he looked up and began to grin at me, and to look excited at the sight of such a strange person again. Then he waved, and kept waving (to the amusement of the rest of his siblings who had also gathered by this time) until I’d crossed the street.
Is ‘malae’ a rude thing to yell at someone? In our culture it would be rude to shout “foreigner” at someone as they walked past. But Malae is the Tetun word for foreigner, and this is a culture that I gather does tend to speak in a very direct way, and has no qualms about making casual observations out loud (Eg. “Hey, you got fat!”).
Perhaps after a while it gets tired. I imagine you sometimes get weary of being the subject of scrutiny for so many people. You’d probably like to be anonymous and a bit invisible sometimes. Craig told me about a time recently where a young kid yelled ‘Malae’ at him and, being in no mood for it that particular day, he showed him the finger. Not a good thing to do, not an appropriate reaction at all, he admits. But, he says, it was perhaps one of the clear signs that it was time for him and his partner to move on, and say goodbye to Timor. Enough of the cold-water mandi showers, and the power blackouts, and the motorbikes from work that are unreliable, while other staff hide the keys of the ones that do work, and the days where water mysteriously and inexplicably stops running from any of the taps on the block. And people cheerfully pointing out your weird foreign-ness all the time.
Sunday, day 14
During our stay on the island it became not unusual to hear people break into song. These were generally local men, walking along the beach, maybe finished work for the day, or completing some tasks. Their voices would carry on the wind and as I sat in front of our cabin or floated lazily in the sea I would hear them. Work songs are an important part of the musical traditions here.
To get back from Atauro in time for Monday morning work, we departed at 4am on the local shop boat. Every Monday, the owner of the village general store goes into Dili on his boat, and takes a small number of passengers with him.
Most of the others on the boat curled up and tried to continue sleeping on the deck of the boat. I tried this too but couldn’t – too uncomfortable! I sat up and watched the water, hoping we might see dolphins or whales – often sighted on this crossing.
There were two of the ship’s workers sitting at the front of the boat and one of them began to sing. Quite unselfconsciously, gazing out to sea as he sang. It was an intriguing sound, accompanied by the jagged percussive constancy of the fishing boat’s loud motor. The singer was sitting at the front of the boat. I scooted over, my camera in hand, and recorded the sound, holding my camera just behind his head.
Unsurprisingly, there is more motor in the recording than voice. But when he finished the song I started up a conversation with him and he invited me to sit at the front with him. He sang more songs, explaining where they were from (one from church, one traditional Atauro song, etc). I filmed each of these, using a Flip camera.
One idea I am exploring with this residency is how I might be able to use footage that I film or record in a performance outcome of some kind. The clips I filmed on the boat – of my singer and his co-worker sitting on the prow, singing together while the boats makes its way back to Dili and the mountains of the mainland come into view – could possibly be used in this way.
So, while I didn’t get to see any dolphins or whales, I got to hear and record some beautiful music. I don’t have the bandwidth to upload one of the clips here, but this is a photograph of the two singers that morning, and some others from the morning crossing.
Sunday, day 14
Our little household spent the weekend on Atauro Island, about 2 hours by boat from the Dili Port. Shona and Craig had planned this weekend away some time ago, and invited Sarah and I along. Atauro is a fabled and special place, an island that must maintain something of a self-sufficient lifestyle, where mountain villages are accessible only on foot, where coral reefs are within metres of the shoreline and that offer superb snorkelling and diving opportunities. Between the island and the mainland the water falls to a depth of 3000 metres – a natural trench. When you go to the outer reef (minutes from the beach by boat) you can swim out to where this mighty drop begins.
Atauro used to be a prison island, during Indonesian times. For many Timorese people it may be synonymous with the terror and secrecy of those times. These days however, it is being touted as a supreme beauty spot and it plays host to not one but two eco-resorts. We stayed in one of these, Barry’s.
I don’t want to find myself writing a travel blog, but I do have to rave about Barry’s, just a little. You can walk to Barry’s from the ferry jetty. You walk through the local market, and when it finishes, you have reached Barry’s. His are the last set of dwellings along that stretch of beach. There are 5 or 6 different cabins, each made with imagination, natural materials, and traditional building techniques. There are drop-toilets and the most glamourous polished concrete mandi shower room you have ever seen. All meals are shared in the dining room (which is actually part of Barry’s family home) so you meet lots of interesting people when you stay there. It’s tranquil and beautiful, you can head off into the backdrop of mountains If you choose, or you can just chill out in the sea or on your own private verandah.
Enough description. Here are some photos:
Friday, day 12
This second week has gone incredibly quickly. Tetun classes everyday, then various errands to run in the afternoons. The gentle, settling-in routine of last week has disappeared already – I haven’t had any chance to play music on the verandah and sing songs with the neighbourhood children. I think they miss this too – every time any one of them sees me, he or she starts singing Ah, ram sam sam, ah ram sam sam goolly goolly goolly goolly goolly ram sam sam… doing the actions. Even their parents – working on the block of land the church is on, chopping down trees and exposing the water pipes (the men) or nursing the youngest children (the women), join in sometimes with the chorus. But I am always on my way somewhere else, and have to hope that an enthusiastic wave and call of Bondia or Botardi will be sufficient temporary response. It feels a bit thin to me, admittedly. How did I get to be in such a busy routine so quickly? Answer: visa extension.
These last two days I’ve been tackling the issue of getting a visa extension. I need my 30 day tourist visa to be turned into something longer. To do this, I’ve the opportunity of a helping hand from the Ministry of Culture, with whom my project is registered, and who can write a letter of support for a visa extension. This week, therefore, I’ve met with the Ministry of Culture people on two separate afternoons, and queued at the Department of Immigration in order to get the forms that I need to fill out to apply for the extension.
At this afternoon’s meeting, I learned that there is probably a form missing that the Minister of Culture needs to sign, in addition to the letter of support they have written. This means another visit to the Department of Immigration office, first thing Monday morning, then a return visit to the Ministry of Culture to pick up the signed letter and hopefully get the new form (if it exists) filled out and signed on the spot, then a further return trip to the Department of Immigration to hand in all this paperwork.
I don’t live near that part of town, and I’ve found the last few days to be quite exhausting, travelling in the afternoon heat to the various offices, after finishing an intense morning of language classes. I’ll be very happy to finish the process next week. I am supposed to be leaving Dili for Baucau next week, but I’m not going to head off until the visa extension application is submitted and in the process of being processed.
Thursday, day 11
Last night we ate dinner on the beach. I can’t wait to introduce Tiny and my various visitors to this experience. Along the beach road in Dili are a number of food stalls, cooking up barbecued fish, chicken, and corn. Some stalls also sell a delicious local dish that is rice poached for several hours in coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves, and eaten with ai-manas (a fiercely hot chilli pesto).
I ordered a piece of fish for myself, and it came to me whole, barbecued on a skewer. “How am I going to eat this?” I asked the others somewhat self-consciously (they were all vegetarians so weren’t planning to partake). These stalls don’t have cutlery of any kind. The young girl who sold it to me produced a small machete when I mimed my interest in having eating utensils of some kind. In the end I ate it much the same way I would eat a corn on the cob, but navigating bones more carefully than one might need to navigate corn kernels.
It was the best fish I have eaten in ages! Fresh, crispy skinned, cooked with some secret herbs and spices, I’d say, and rich, creamy flesh. Mmmm. Great food, idyllic location (and the added bonus is that there are fewer mosquitos by the sea).
Friday, day 12.
It seems extraordinary sometimes, to be this hot all the time. Someone told me about a t-shirt they saw for sale once in Colmera (the centre of town, where there are lots of shops). It said, “I’m hot like a toaster”. I want a t-shirt like that.
Hot like a toaster doesn’t quite describe it, however. I drip. I just seem to perspire all the time. It’s like there is a constant coating of water on me even when I am sitting completely still. I’m hot like a tap that needs a serious overhaul.
I was in the town centre last weekend, looking for somewhere to eat on a Sunday. Not so easy to find! In the meantime, I took some photos.
When Sarah our resident UN intern returned home from her first day at work yesterday, Craig (my host) and I quizzed her intensively about her first day working at Obrigado Barracks (the name is a pun by the way. ‘Thank you very much’ in Tetun is said ‘obrigado barak’. Clearly someone had a sense of humour at the ready when the UN began their mission in East Timor).
She told us about her colleagues – their names, where they come from, what they are doing here with the UN. Then she described her new boss – Murray M, an English man, “cool and laid-back”. It turned out to be Murray who I knew from my year in Mostar, Bosna-Herzegovina, in 1998. Working in Mostar at the Pavarotti Music Centre was a significant and pivotal time in my life, so connections from those days are particularly precious. I sent Murray a note via Sarah, and he called me during the morning break at Tetun classes and we arranged to meet for lunch. Such a small world! How quickly the connections start to reveal themselves in a city like Dili!
Tomorrow night Sarah and I will join Murray at a rehearsal of the Expat Choir. It is apparently run by the wife of the Australian ambassador. I learned today that there is also a jazz band here, made up of various busy people like ambassadors, head of the ANZ bank, etc. I wonder if they’d welcome a guest clarinettist? Or saxophonist/flautist, when Tiny arrives in December? Perhaps Christmas here won’t be so quiet after all… perhaps we’ll even be able to hold my traditional Christmas Carols party?!