Last night, I watched President and Nobel Prize Laureate Jose Ramos-Horta thank the UN for their service in Timor-Leste at a big party he threw at Obrigado Barracks (best peacekeeping mission pun ever — in Tetum, ‘obrigado barak’ means ‘thank you very much’… but why did they pick the masculine form?? Gender equality!). It was his penultimate day as president — tonight TMR will be officially inaugurated and Timor-Leste will also celebrate a decade of independence and internationally recognised nationhood. So it is a big weekend in Dili.
I was literally three metres away from the stage at the event last night. It is amazing how accessible the big wigs are here in Dili… presidents (present, former and soon to be former…I see Alkatiri out for dinner all the time), ministers, ambassadors… for such an allegedly troublesome (if you read the news wires) post-conflict nation, people sure are pretty relaxed about day-to-day personal security. Which is cool. Ramos-Horta drives around town in an open side Mini Moke car (I’ve spotted it three or so times on the beach road now). Considering someone shot him in 2008, that’s a pretty big gesture of confidence in ongoing peace in the country.
It is very exciting to be in Timor the year that it celebrates 10 years of independence. Sure, there’s still a lot of problems and challenges going forward, but you’ve really got to take a look and see how far it has come. In 1999, practically everything in the country was destroyed. When you talk to Timorese and hear how their families were torn apart, how they hid, were refugees, were in Tent Cities on the outskirts of Darwin, were scared, lost loved ones, were tortured… the significance of anniversaries such as this one only become clearer.
Parabens Timor-Leste. I wish only for peace and prosperity for everyone in the country in the years ahead.