>> 25 October 2014
The reason I chose to work in Timor-Leste is because I developed an unlikely love (or at least a deep sympathy and vague understanding) for this country and these people. But since I've been back this time, I've found it much harder to feel comfortably at ease. Living and working here is hard in so many ways.
During the violence of 1999, the people of Dili fled the city or flocked to the UN compound to escape the horrific chaos that pro-Indonesian militia were wreaking on their town. I heard stories of women, denied quick entry, who were throwing their infants over the razor-wired walls with no guarantee that anyone was on the other side to catch them. Knowing these things is one thing, but when I recently drove past the UN compound and looked up at the height of the wall, I completely broke down. I don't have any children, but the thought of being so terrified that a person could be driven to this choice opened up an endless ache in my heart.
My neighbor is very sick young woman around my age, and likely suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from having grown up in Dili and living through things I can't imagine. She has a 5 year old son. Sometimes she has screaming fits and attacks him, other times she becomes unresponsive for hours. He knows what to expect and what to do, and our other neighbors always come to make sure he is safe and well cared for. The depth of his understanding of her illness fills me with grief. I think about typical 5 year old little boys in the West and I get so angry at the unfairness. Compounding that anger is the fact that he was born with a cleft palette and the family may never be able to afford to have it corrected. He may never be able to regularly attend school, and then what kind of future can he expect?
Poverty, a violent history, and an unstable future are hard truths to live with, but people here manage to do it every day. They fall in love, they have parties, they play games in the streets, they sing, they laugh and they are healing. East Timor is also called Timor Lorosa'e- Timor where the sun rises. This week I've finally been reminded of the beauty and the hope that can be found if you can clear your mind and open your heart to it. A friend from work took me on a drive and a hike at sunset up to a local landmark called Cristo Rei where we watched a beautiful sunset and the mountains in the east shadowed in blues and dusty gray. This morning I went on a hike 600m up a mountain and watched the sun rise over my sleepy town and the mountains in the west turn red and pink and orange. And finally I had my a-ha moment where I remembered that I have friends here who have also experienced these events and the emotions I am going through, that they understand, and that I am not alone. For now, at least, my heart is full of hope.