Settling in

Wednesday, day 31

The house I live in is owned by a family with four children; the are helped also by the younger sister of the mother, a girl who is the same age as Valda, who helps in my house.

The younger children are curious and chatty, and are quite entertained by my presence, a lot of the time. The other day we went for a walk into town with the two older children, and each time I heard one of them mention the ‘malae’ I would ask playfully, “who’s that malae you’re referring to?” They’d laugh and point to me.**

But there are nicer ways of referring to someone when you speak about them than just as ‘the foreigner’, and later on that day I was highly amused to hear the younger girl seriously going through my photo album with another person, explaining who each person in the photos was (according to what she remembered I had told her earlier):

And this one is Mana Osmina’s mother, and this one is Mana Osmina’s father. This is her grandfather, and this here is Mana Osmina’s sister, and her sister’s husband.

“Mana Osmina? Why does she call me Mana Osmina?” I asked Valda. “Oh, she doesn’t remember your name,” came the reply, “so she has just made one up.”

I feel quite touched to have graduated from being malae to having a name bestowed upon me by my young neighbour!

Last night I decided to treat myself in the evening to a DVD. While in Dili I bought myself Mad Men series 3. I made myself comfortable on the verandah with my laptop and got the DVD started. Before long, Aji, the boy, and the oldest in the family (aged 5), had joined me. I explained to him that the program was called Mad Men, and translated ‘mad’ as meaning crazy or angry. I could see him taken with the idea of crazy rather than angry and dug myself a little deeper into my hole by trying to say that the mad men of the title weren’t necessarily crazy in the Timorese sense of crazy.

Hmmm. Aji wasn’t interested, but amused himself for the next little while asking, each time Don Draper came on the screen, “Is that the crazy man?” and, “ Look, now the crazy man is talking to the woman/with the pretty little girl/driving the car”. It was quite a surreal experience, actually, especially given that no-one I know perceives Don Draper as particularly crazy.

** The funny thing about the ‘malae’ question, and who that refers to, is that they have named their pig Malae! I laughed so hard when I first heard this (they didn’t tell me, I heard them referring to the pig in this way. “Why do you call the pig Malae?” I asked two of the younger children. Their older sister emerged from the kitchen laughing and said it was because their pig’s pale skin was the same colour as malae skin, that’s why. So the answer to my question, “Who’s this ‘malae’ you keep talking about, was in fact, “the pig”.

1 comment so far

  1. Jana on

    Hi Gillian,

    I found your blog while researching travel to East Timor and you seem to be having some very interesting and exciting experiences. I have sent you an email to the address of your website that is under construction, which I hope you don’t mind, as I had a couple of questions about travelling to Dili in December.

    Thanks, Jana

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