Daniel Gilfillan: Daniel Gilfillan’s CommUNITY News no. 2

A discarded bicycle
I’m getting to know and understand quite a bit of Tetun now, but it is still largely a case of going where the wind blows me. I’m still quite missing the undercurrents that tell me why we are doing something. And for some reason I didn’t find out until yesterday that it was Father Adrian’s birthday.

Yesterday, unrelated to Amu’s birthday, we went to a place called Hituria for a picnic. Hituria is a holy place, in the distant past people were buried there, although today there is no cemetery as such. It is on top of a ridge line, and having been there it is easy to understand why it is a place of significance in Timor. The views are spectacular to say the least, and this in a country where hill tops with amazing views are commonplace. Clear views over three distinct valley systems, with one of them looking up the North Western faces of Timor’s highest mountain, Ramerlau.

I’m still quite missing the undercurrents which tell me why we are doing something…

Storytelling in Ermera
I told you that I don’t have a full understanding of what is going on a lot of the time… Father Adrian walked past my bedroom in the morning and said we (exclusive) are going out. I asked if I should come, and he indicated that I could, so I climbed in the car knowing we were going out on a non-work trip, but that was all. I knew enough about the country to know what was on the other side of the ridge that we were driving up to, and I was very keen to look down into the valley beyond, not really expecting for the group to head that way.

I was very excited when we did, and to reach the crest and look out over Ramerlau and the roads criss-crossing the valley, and trying to work out which ones I’d been on, was just superb. We followed the ridge line along, on a walking track, that at times seemed as though it was 30cm wide with an 80° slope on each side, but then it is well known that I’m scared of heights. I still didn’t know where we were going, and Jose (with whom I was walking) told me we were going down to where the sounds of a party could be heard. This turned out to be a joke, but in the meantime we’d walked 15 minutes past Hituria, and had to turn back.

For the next half hour people kept turning up, at the top of the mountain, carrying a cake, drinks, bread rolls, eggs… Not unlike an Australian picnic. Rather than the games we might play, though, after we’d eaten one of the older men gave a history lesson. He took maybe 45 minutes to tell the story of the area, that I think started at the time of the Portuguese arrival. I didn’t follow much of it, but Father Adrian took notes and I hope to be able to talk more with him about it in the near future.

It was a lesson for me in culture. I’d never been on a Timorese outing like that before, and the similarities between it and a stereotypical Australian experience just highlighted the differences. But I guess that we do talk about our history when we go out for a picnic, or camping, but it is not normally as plain to see. More than the direct lesson, it is a reminder to me not to assume that I understand my context yet. I’ll keep learning about East Timor, and Timorese culture the whole time that I am here. The language is not the only barrier to my understanding, not by a long way.

I’d never been on a Timorese outing like that before, and the similarities between it and a stereotypical Australian experience just highlighted the differences.

Before the story was told though Mestre Luis stood up to say something along the lines of: This is a picnic and so we will do this… I listened to what he said, and from my Australian experience I thought he was talking about some sort of game where people would tell a short story about their own experience, and it would be some sort of competition.

On an end note, when we arrived home later in the afternoon, it turned out that the staff at the residence, and members of the community had used the time while Amu was away to put together a big feast for his birthday. The question that I ask myself is Was the outing to Hituria staged by the community because they knew it was Father Adrian’s birthday? It is not a question I expect answered, at least not now, but I hope that in a year’s time I won’t need to ask.

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The poor themselves can create a poverty-free world —
all we have to do is to free them from the chains that we have put around them. - Muhammad Yunus