Tis my birthday today. I thought about just leaving it at that but it seemed a little self-indulgent. I’ve had so many things I wanted to write about that I’ve ended up just making a list over the last few weeks and not actually writing. They’ve piled up into a repository (not suppository) of moments. Several of them have to do with pigs! The most beloved of animals. Here are ten standouts:
Ben the pig appearing one day in my friend’s garden. He scratched his bottom on the rough trunk of a tree every two minutes. Due to some black pigmentation on his eyelids, his eyes looked much bigger from afar giving him an especially sentient look. Ben was clearly there to be eaten at some point. It is the first time in my life I have lived so close to an animal that would soon be slaughtered for food.
Some pigs get very big in Dili. One I saw had long legs and was the size of a little pony. It walked around high and elegant, a funny silver color making him/her look regal. Another one I see often is short, squat and warthoggish. She is bristly with a tough hide and very heavy with milk right now. When I was riding to work one day, she was crossing the road and came to one of the small canals that drain the muck and rain out of the city. She saw me, she saw the canal. Leaning back she then jumped clean over it in one incredibly dainty go, her full mammarys swaying from side to side as she landed. It was for some reason a very special thing to see. Turns out pigs do fly.
Today on my birthday, three little piglets squeezed out from under a gate just as I left home and stood in order of size peeping at me. I wasn’t sure what to do but I ended up saluting them.
When I arrived in Sydney for Christmas I was skinny and bug eyed. At the Henson Hotel on the night I arrived I felt cushioned like I was in some safe, spun cocoon in a thunderstorm. Everyone was bigger, safer, carefree, leaving their meals uneaten, their glasses always full and with coins falling tittering out of their pockets. I felt a little like oil in water that night, part of it but separate. By the next morning it had faded and I was re-absorbed into the pace and privilege of my lucky life. I was stunned at how quickly this happened.
At one of the second hand clothes stalls in Caicoli I saw a GAP jumper hung up on a pole. Faded grey, the letters ‘GAP’ hung back tiredly, the arms loose and empty by its side. I stopped and checked the tag-‘Made in Bangladesh’. I saw the strange circle that consumer goods complete, over and over, running rings around the world. Made in the global South in Dhaka in some malevolent warehouse, shipped to that other great warehouse of iniquity, the shopping mall somewhere in the North, only to return used and discarded to the South.
On the way back from visiting Big Jesus on the hill one Sunday, I rode past two police cars stopped beside a cart owner. I watched a butchy policeman curl his lips and arch his back advancing to his police car. As I passed by on the bike I saw a young man curled up terrified inside against the window just as a stick entered the car. I felt a sick hollow feeling. It wasn’t the stick. It was seeing the fear that comes from realizing another human being had done away with those safeguards of thought and conscience that prevent us from violence. The grasp that once that’s done anything could happen.
Every morning and afternoon I pass by the national police force gym blaring Eye of the Tiger. The gym is positioned by the roadside in plain view of all. You can smell the acrid sweat from the street and see the guys working out inside like shadow puppets. They are all bulking up. The biggest men in Timor are police. They have crew cuts and play Rocky songs while sporting RayBans. The NZ and Aus police force here to train them look exactly like them- or is it that the Timorese look exactly like the NZ and AUS police? I wonder if police brutality was in the manual.
Reading about the David and Goliath battle in the ICJ. Timor Leste is currently seeking a ruling in the International High Court of Justice to regain the documents the Australian Attorney General authorized to be seized in a raid on Timor Leste’s Canberra based lawyer. Despicability aside, the Australian Government’s justification is national security. A tiny nation with a tiny population where children scrabble around in the dirt poses a threat to national security? The ludicrousness of the claim is laughable except that it’s not funny.
The really excellent graffiti on the Australian Embassy wall of a kangaroo hopping away with a bucket of oil. Says it all really.
This is an everyday moment, though more like a constant questioning. What am I doing here? How much good or how much damage am I doing? How to make the little things count? How to persuade an organization that mimicking a Western INGO isn’t necessarily the answer? What about if it is because that’s how you get money to do good work as a local org? How to keep identity when pretty much all of development is about homogenization based on the IMF/WB/UN’s proformas for becoming-a-real-working-country? How to say I’m sorry and express solidarity in Tetun?
My birthday is sort of close to the beginning of a New Year. It brings all the usual reflection and questioning over life and who you want to be in it. I have an overwhelming feeling of having enough of everything I need and how fortunate I am because of it. Today on the 22nd of January there are reports of asylum seekers who during their tow back were allegedly burnt and beaten. We descended into Hades a long time ago with arguably some of the first steps down taken by the previous government. Petitions, protests, awareness campaigns while well-intentioned are missing the mark for me lately. Systems and structures create these conditions, not Cory Bernardi. He’s an idiot, but we know that. His own party knows that. They distract from the real threat- the structures, the history, the politics (shit it’s the ‘P’ WORD!). It’s about organizing so that it isn’t just the pure random luck of the draw where you are born that determines your opportunity and wellbeing. I guess at 29 I’ve kind of had enough of just a few having enough.
…And go. That is all it took to get back on track with this blog.
I feel very strongly when I re-read my last two entries. For a start, they were written in a different home. I have now moved into my new abode. A villa with a calf pink balcony and a really indescribable shade of green in the kitchen and bedrooms. I think the closest thing would be the green of a Sprite bottle. I know. I’m not enthused either. Nevertheless the walls speak of joy and a sea breeze from my North facing window mixes nicely with an occasional zephyr off the hills. The hills. Shape shifting things that reflect and absorb the light depending on the rain. I’ve watched their bare dusty slopes turn a notch greener every day, with every shower. It is glorious to watch them emerge from the big rain cloud shimmering. Dili changes before my very eyes.
I am now in my third month here. This entry has taken so long to write because frankly, I’ve been struggling. The rains initial relief and joy has given way to an intense humidity that hovers between 70 and 95%. It induces the thickest brain fog that nothing seems to dissipate. No amount of sleep or eating well or coaching yourself out of it. Getting to work is a daily strategic event that involves a mix of walking, taxis and cycling. As I write this, the sticky mud is beginning to dry on my ankles and an embarrassing wet patch of mud dries on my bottom and ruins the seats at my drinking hole (sorry Discovery Inn).
I am watching the global televised coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death. In my workplace, my colleagues discussed what solidarity activity would take place to remember his life. A protest outside the Australian Embassy is still taking place against the shameful raid on Timor’s representative Australian lawyer at the Hague’s office. A tiny, poor nation once again has it’s back against the wall as the corporate interests of powerful foreign governments frankly just shit over their ability to determine their own future. I am so ashamed and speechless when I am asked about my government’s actions by my Timorese friends and colleagues. I am worried that these latest developments will contribute to the overall discontent in the country over a lack of access to what we would term ‘development’ or plainly, human rights- education, employment, electricity, clean water. Just last week I stopped aghast on a ride back from the beach when I saw a small child dip her cup into the full black fetid canals and raise it to her lips. I could do nothing but yell stop. I couldn’t offer her a solution. I couldn’t think of anyone else that could either.
Today, with the news of the death of a cult ‘peace’ personality, I like many others are thinking of the other brave participants in freedom struggles who will not and did not get global coverage of their deaths. They are the followers of leaders, or leaders for a day, anonymous and holy in their own way but without the benefit of a state funeral. Women and men involved in resistance, armed and otherwise that died alone, unnamed and remembered in a cursory way. Timor faces its own cult of personality and the resemblance with South Africa is striking. Xanana Gusmao is currently locked in an ideological battle over history. The splinter group naming themselves the Revolutionary Council headed by Mauk Moruk is the manifestation of a resistance history that is exclusively based around personality. The cult of Xanana is propped up by Western governments like our own all too keen on taking sides with a media friendly personality. Mauk has enough supporters now to have the government seriously concerned. Who was involved in Timor’s independence and the contributions of all Timorese is a side note. Instead, like Mandela, a (male) figurehead is applauded, celebrated and memorialized by governments like our own.
Our own complicity in the very regimes whose downfall we now applaud is conveniently forgotten. Peace is an easy thing to celebrate when it is a nice, fluffy shiny word. Our complicity in the war, not so much.
This is not so much a denigration of the achievements of great advocates and orators for peace like Mandela, or even the remarkable efforts of a very young Xanana who pulled together a rag tag resistance against its much larger occupying army. Their achievements are without dispute and to be frank quite obvious. This is a pause to consider those who followed them. This is also an indictment on the continuing agents of colonization who continue to inflict great damage on nations like Timor Leste by making the playing field unfair and inhospitable. This is about us. This is about the leaders we choose who do things in our name that make it necessary for people like Xanana Gusmao and Nelson Mandela to exist, when they should not have to. We celebrate their lives (and deaths) while fueling the fires they and millions of their followers give their lives to put out. Then we write a nice Facebook post about them when they die. We can do better.
What would it look like to be committed to those words-freedom, equality, human rights? What would it require of us as individuals, in our homes, in our communities, our workplaces, where we spend our money? If peace was a Facebook status heaven knows we would be a wonderful world. Times like this invite bigger questions. They invite reading, understanding. They invite history into the everyday, into our everyday and our every action. They invite us to question why some of us have, and so many of us have-not. In our countries, in our cities, in our communities. May we be brave enough to take the next step.