Timor – First Impressions

I have the bike in Timor Leste and I feel much better for it. I headed up into the hills behind Dili on the weekend and was surprised at how steep they are. No wonder the Indonesians had trouble finding Xanana Gusmao and the Fretlin and Fatalin guerilla fighters, access is seriously limited in places. At the tops of the mountains are still some lush old-tree forests and they have a very calming and peaceful feel about them.

As benefits someone on a bike, I rode down a couple of random tracks and ended up in a few villages past Dare where the road abruptly stops. Looking for an alternative way down I ended up at fork in the road that led to two private drive-ways of rather large houses. One of the residents spotted me and we had a good little chat and some tea looking out over Dili and Atuaro. I can’t remember his name but he spoke good english and worked for The Asian Foundation (TAF) right near Mercy Corp. That discussion gave me the best insight yet into what may have been troubling me recently: How the Timorese think.

Our discussion was incredible deep and heart-felt for such a random meeting. In his opinion, in my memory and in my words the factors affecting the capability of the Timorese to develop a functioning society which was just, fair and productive includes:

  • A lack of skills, knowledge and understanding which breeds the confidence and belief inherent in such lucky educated Australians as myself. Not having the skills and knowledge is one thing, but lacking the confidence to make mistakes crucifies the ability to learn those skills and develop the knowledge which leads to the confidence. 
  • Responsible for the lack of skills and knowledge is the hundreds of years of colonial subjugation by Portugal where Timorese were permitted to labour but not to learn – especially not in the sense of being developed personally to question authority, to question tradition, to ask how or why it was being done. From this inheritance they learned to labour, to act as directed, not to think. 
  • A fear of authority that comes from tens of years of brutal oppression by the Indonesian occupying forces.
  • A tribal and regional royalty heritage (read about the Suco structure here) that has either re-asserted itself in the absence of other government control systems or been re-established as part of new governmental systems or been totaly ignored altogether. This has resulted in resurging nepotism and therefore skepticism, distrust, inefficiency and a lack of productivity.

I feel like I left that tea meeting with a much better understanding and yet I’m still struggling emotionally, with low motivation, low energy and a pretty poor outlook for the future in Timor Leste and i’m pretty sure it has to do with the huge work-force of international aid providers here. Undeniably some do an amazing job, with limited resources and huge amounts of effort. Also undeniably and rather disappointingly some don’t do their job at all and yet consume an immense amount of resources with no effort. Even worse, they seem to be proud of it. It got me down. Then I looked at the hills and sunset and thought that there are stronger, bolder elements at play in Timor Leste, and they will succeed eventually.

2 thoughts on “Timor – First Impressions

  1. Wow, thanks Demelza… I'll check back in 15 years, you might have changed your mind about me corrupting your daughters!

    I was lucky to have 3 very intelligent, quite different, yet also special people to learn from when I was growing up. 😛

  2. This probably isn't the best forum for this but reading your blog makes me realize what an awesome and special person you are!
    Hopefully in the future you can tell Charlotte all about your adventures and what you've learnt and it will inspire her to be like you.
    Love you xoxo

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