The Pied Piper of Comoro

I’ve fallen into a pleasant daily routine here in Dili. I go to language school in the morning until 12:30, then cycle into town to have lunch and do my homework, and when I get home in the afternoon I play my clarinet or flute on the front porch and watch the world go by.

Generally I find that the world also watches me as it goes by, and the young children in particular stop and listen. When they stop by the gate I wave, and if they wave back I tend to strike up a (halting, broken) conversation with them in Tetun. It’s great practice for me, and in return for my music they sometimes share their own music with me.

Today – Saturday – there were more kids around than usual, some older ones that I had met earlier in the week (and interviewed for my Tetun servisu uma (=homework) so I knew their names), and some younger ones that I knew by sight. One of them mimed that he wanted to have a try of the clarinet. I now have enough Tetun to explain that sadly, he can’t, that only I can play this clarinet.

Do you know any songs? I asked them. One or two shyly admitted they did. Mana Dina, who lives on the same block as the house I’m staying in, wandered over to our group, and she explained to me that some of the children go to school but others – she patted them on the head in turn to show me which ones she meant – were not yet at school.

Mana Dina encouraged the school children to sing a song from school for me. They sang a song with actions that I copied. Then the rain started up so we moved over to the patio. Mana Dina instructed all the pre-school children to sit on the tiled floor in a huddle. The older children commandeered the seats. Now that they were warmed up and in place on the patio, they began to sing with great enthusiasm, with an older boy calling out names of new songs to sing every time one finished.

The pre-schoolers looked mostly lost or overawed. It was interesting to see how the school-goers were completely au fait with systems of learning and getting organised, but the younger children looked like it was all going by way too quickly.

I taught them to sing Ram Sam Sam. It’s a good song to start with because it has very few words and they are nonsense words, easy to remember, with actions. I taught it phrase by phrase, using the word ‘prononsia’ that the teachers in my Tetun class say when they want us to repeat a new word after them.

We sang it through a couple of times, and they did very well. So then I got ambitious, and divided them into three groups. I grabbed the words hamriik (stand up) and tuur (sit down) from my memory and told them in my pidgin Tetun to stand up on certain words and sit down on others. This turns Ram Sam Sam into a kind of game, with each team aiming to make sure they only stand up on their words and not on someone else’s.

“Lalais!” (faster) I suggested after each time, and we sang it again faster. Then the children also starting calling for it to go “lalais”. At this stage it was still raining heavily and some older children had turned up with huge golf umbrellas – presumably to fetch their younger siblings and bring them home for tea. Suddenly the group ran off, slipping into their flip-flops and racing away through the downpour. As they ran back home I could hear them singing Ram Sam Sam at the top of their voices.

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1 comment so far

  1. Ros on

    I loved reading about the East Timorese children and their singing. What a fantastic thing to encourage the kids to sing and then get such a great response! Gillian, your time in Timor Leste is going to be a great experience all round, I’m certain.


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