I love coming to the field/the districts and I love coming to Lospalos, even though it means long days, basic conditions and a six-hour drive from Dili.
One of the things I love about it is talking with the women out here.
My Tetum is still pretty rubbish, so I still rely a lot (by a lot, I mean primarily… my Tetum is really only shopping in the market level, though I can understand a lot more than I can speak) on Bahasa Indonesia for interesting conversations.
Even though I initially had reservations and thought that people might resent me using the language of the country’s former occupiers, I have faced no hostility at all for it so far. Most people are just excited that we can chat. And it’s actually easier for me to understand conversations in Indonesian by Timorese, even though my language skills are a bit rusty, because they tend to speak a bit slower because it is not their first language. Also, out here, where Fataluku is the first language rather than Tetum, people seem even happier to natter away using bahasa, despite not having the constant exposure to Indonesian sinetrons that their countrywomen have in the city – there are no televisions in many of the villages we visit.
One of the women told me that when we first started talking it was like the Indonesian language was trapped in her brain, because it had been a long time since she had used it, but when she heard it again it was like ‘a chicken that flew out of a trap and was free.’
I’ve found that the women in Lospalos love to chat. On this trip to the districts, I have been accompanying my counterpart and a photographer sent by one of our international offices. I help out, explain background information etc, push for efficiencies in the schedule, but when the photographer is shooting, the field staff help him direct the subjects for the photo and I can sit and chat away with the women (and sometimes the men too, it depends on the village and the situation – for example, when we visit a childcare centre, there are mostly women, but when we visit a water project, it is mostly the men that turn out. The children come to everything!).
They tell me interesting things about their lives and ask a lot of questions about mine as well. Sometimes the things they tell me are very sad. In one village, a woman told me how when their crops fail or the men can’t find any work, they only have enough to feed their children three times a week. Another woman told us about how her husband had died so now she has to provide for her five children and her eldest daughter (12 years old) had to help her.
They all agree that I need to find a Lospalos man, but sometimes they ask how many buffalo the man would have to pay my family in Australia for a marriage. I’m not really sure.
In one village, I was talking to some women and a young man in very dirty, torn clothes with frizzy hair and bright red spectacles came up to look at what was going on with the visiting photographer. The women grabbed my arm and pulled me away as they ran around a corner of the building, some of the younger ones shrieking. They made a sign, putting their pointing finger horizontally across their forehead. Damaged. Crazy.
“He tries to hug us,” one said. “His brain is broken. Bad spirits.”
The man just sat there watching the photographer work. He seemed fairly benign.