Sunday, November 30, 2014

Travelling West

A bit an adventure yesterday. I went to a nearby town, Liquica, with the hash for a walk. It was pretty hot but somewhat cloudy. Liquica is far enough away to have different weather to Dili anyway.
Our walk set off. It was to be a short walk around the town, pointing out points of interest rather than a long walk with occasional beauty spots whose purpose was principally exercise.

The points of interest arose before we reached the first one. A group of youths had blocked off the street with traffic cones and were saying “Labele! Labele!”. This literally meant forbidden and it was clear from the context that we were not to follow our path. A rapid exchange of Tetun began and it looking up ahead there was a large outdoor ceremony with people on plastic chairs overflowing out of a shrine and blocking the road. Our prospects for continuing did not look good.

Just then the skies opened. Torrential rain bucketed down. My carefully applied sunscreen and mosquito repellent were gone in a flash, but there was no sun to speak of and any insects foolish enough not to be seeking shelter would have instantly drowned. All the chairs on the road were immediately shifted to positions with a less favourable view but more cover. The youths manning the roadblock, seeing the way clear, allowed us past with an instruction to be respectful.

We went past the shrine, where a bass-baritone was singing something that sounded like it might have come out of Timor-Leste’s animistic past. A supreme irony of the Indonesian occupation was that through their refusal to accept ‘non-organised’ religions, like the widely prevalent animism, they may have created the most Christian and Catholic country on earth outside Vatican City itself. Nevertheless, articles I have read suggest that strong roots to the old animism survive inside ‘Timorese Catholicism’.

We quietly filed past the crowd, who looked at us curiously, but no-one disturbed the old man singing. We made our way up to Liquica Hospital and back down through the ceremony once more. This time a pair of teenagers were singing a religious duet. We quietly filed by again, and although some of the younger people in the crowd looked at us and giggled (they were sheltering and we were stolidly trudging through the rain) it seemed we had not really impacted on those for whom this was most important. I hope so, anyway.

We went past the Portuguese governor’s mansion, now being rebuilt after having been pretty much destroyed, an intact church where Indonesian troops or their Timorese supporters had massacred women and children attempting to hide from the fighting and other buildings, either derelict and being rebuilt or in the process of being built to stimulate social and economic life. One walker commented that after travelling the districts he was stunned at how little trade took place. Firewood, cigarettes, ‘pulsa’ (mobile phone credits) and car and bike fuel accounted for a great deal of it.

Eventually we made it back and went to dinner. I’d decided to go home early and fortunately so had many of the drivers. We went in convey at several kilometres out of liquica were stopped in a traffic snarl. There had been a flash flood, the road had washed away and locals were performing a basic repair as traffic built up. I went to look. They were using nothing but sticks and bare hands as tools. Eventually the heavy equipment – a single spade – was brought. After about an hour we got through, aware by that stage that there was another potential trouble spot ahead.

The bad news was that there was indeed a blockage, with a worse traffic snarl than before. The good news was that a combined trench digger/bulldozer was already at work. The bad news was that the road had been washed away to a depth of 3-4 metres – it was a gaping gash and the digger at best could create only a single lane passageway while traffic was snarled in both directions. The good news was that there was a landslip behind us, which we had avoided but hash members from the US Navy Construction Brigade (known as the “CBs”) had been caught behind. Using their own bare hands and with local help they had cleared the road enough for them to catch up with us.

Eventually, the digger finished its work and with CBs directing traffic, we set off along roads that had been choked with dust that afternoon. It was now night and the roads were wet all the way to Dili. The night was cool and pleasant and we’d driven the 40 kms home in about 3½ hours.

I hope my next travel out to the districts isn’t quite as interesting.

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