Tia iha Lautem

Timor districtsTimor Leste

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An elderly woman wearing traditional clothing with betel-nut stained teeth in a village in Lautem district, Timor-Leste.

I was in the field with another photographer, who was carrying two cameras. He took a photo of this woman, who had come out of her house, very interested in the malae (foreigners) visiting the village playgroup. While the photographer went off for other images up a hill, (he invited the elderly woman to come with him but she laughed and said she couldn’t because of her knees) I stayed near the tia (grandmother in Tetum) and asked/gestured if I could take another photo. She obliged and I showed her the image on the back of the camera. She burst into hysterical laughter, slapping her knees and gesturing toward herself in disbelief, as if to say ‘is that really me?’.

She called over a younger woman, to confirm that the image on the camera was what the woman looked like. They laughed together and the elderly woman grabbed my arm and patted my shoulder and gestured for me (perhaps ‘forcefully pulled me’ is the better description) to take a photo of the younger woman (see below). I obliged, and then she compared the image on the LCD screen with the reality. Cue more hysterical laughter from both the women, beautiful laughter that was a mix of surprise and awe.

The photographer returned, his two cameras strung over his shoulders, and the woman wanted to see herself on his camera too, for added confirmation.

The elderly woman shook her head in disbelief with a huge betel-tinted smile while looking at the image. She gestured at the three cameras between us.

“I’m really inside of those?” she asked. “Some of my spirit is in there?”

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The younger woman.

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