Final celebration

For our last day in Lospalos – Sunday – we knew we would have a Final Jam with all our regular participants. But I had a further plan in store – for the last few days I’d been making a list of everyone’s full names (Timorese full names tend to be very long and very Catholic), and Mana Kim had brought over a number of Many Hands International certificates with her, so on that last day we decided to present certificates to everyone.

Things took a dodgy turn early in the day when I showed Valda the list of names I had. There were a couple of spellings I wanted to check, but as Valda read through the list she started to exclaim and scold the two nearby children in tones of immense outrage.

Aat liu!” she shouted [=terrible; very bad]. “Very bad words they have written here!”

Oops. Looked like some naughty participant(s) had written some very rude words in Fataluku on my list of names, hoping they would get written onto certificates and called out during the presentation by some unsuspecting malae. Tony and I both had to suppress a giggle at the thought of this; but Valda was really appalled, and she insisted on writing the list out again.

The trouble was, when she gave her list to me, there were only 18 names on it. There’d been 52 names on the list I’d been compiling throughout the week – Valda had obviously culled some.

“I’ll still need the other list back,” I explained to her and the boys. They looked around them confused. What had they done with it? “I need to check it,” I told them again.

“But mana, very bad words,” Valda said. “No good.”

“I know, I know,” I reassured her. “It’s okay. But I still need to check that the real names are the same.”

The three of them then retrieved the list from the front garden, where it had apparently been screwed into a ball, ripped up, and flung out in many small pieces. We set out reconstructing it, tiny crumpled jigsaw puzzle that it was now, and eventually I was back to a list of about 40 names.

Even so, I had a horrible feeling someone would be left out, and as Tony and I wrote out the certificates, we kept a few blanks aside, just in case.

At presentation time, which was after our last local jam, all the children sat down on the verandah on my large workshop mat. They started by sitting in a circle, out of habit and expectation, but I told them they could use the whole mat, so many other children who’d been waiting at the edge of the verandah came and filled up the middle of the circle.

A small group of parents had also come along to watch (at the end of the Jam I’d asked the children to go home and bring back a parent or ‘significant other person’ to watch the presentation. A few had done this, which was lovely, as we had never really got to meet many of their parents). Tony, Kim and I stood at the end of the verandah facing the children on the mat. Sarah emerged from her malarial sick bed to be part of the proceedings too.

I held the stack of certificates, and read out each of the names. The crowd greeted each name with a round of applause and further hearty congratulations (eg. “Celestinu, yeeaah, whoooo!”), and the recipients stood up and walked to the front and shook first my hand, and received their certificate, then went on to shake Tony’s , then Kim’s then – quite often – Sarah’s.

It was lovely! Perhaps it was more formal than people might have expected for such an informal program of music-making on a verandah, but I liked the way it really did feel like an ending. Earlier in the week, I’d had the impression that, despite us talking about it as our last week, that we were soon to leave, people weren’t really taking it in. We’d come and gone from Lospalos a few times already in the recent months – perhaps people thought we were taking another short trip away. This presentation, late on a Sunday afternoon, had a sense of finality about it.

At the end of the presentation I looked across the group of children on the mat, checking they all had certificates. There was one boy who didn’t, and at this stage his big dark eyes were looking incredibly anxious and glassy, and he didn’t seem to trust himself to speak, he was so upset. I apologised to him, trying to reassure him that of course we knew he was part of the verandah jam group. I explained to everyone the confusion there had been with the lists earlier that day. We found out his full name and wrote a certificate out for him.

At that point, unsurprisingly, it turned out there were many among the assembled crowd who also thought they should probably have a certificate.

“Mana,” said one young regular to me, with great solemnity and authority. “This girl here doesn’t have a certificate yet.” The child in question was aged about 2 and I’d never seen her before. I explained to her benefactor that the certificates were really just for those who’d participated, and that she hadn’t actually participated in anything. I added, “She can have one next time we come, when she is old enough to join in. At the moment she can’t even read!” We kept writing until all the blanks were gone.

Certificates are important in Timor Leste. I don’t think people get to see their names in print very often, there is perhaps not a lot of celebration of people’s individual contributions or developent of new skills, and certificates are much-prized acknowledgements. People don’t mind what it is they are getting the certificate for, and they don’t get too old or mature for certificates. And are never too young, it turns out!

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