…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.