Notes from Timor Leste: final words

After eleven unforgettable days in Timor Leste and a few more in the modern Singapore, I am back to my beautiful and charming Phnom Penh.

Once again, I have to say thank you to AirTimor for sponsoring our trip and to Southeast Asia Globe Magazine for the opportunity to visit a country I knew very little about, I must confess.

But as soon as David Hutt, dear friend and great journalist, told me about the possibility of going there on assignment for Globe, I started reading about the country and then I just couldn't wait to finally arrive there.

I was impressed by their history of struggle and I was looking forward to meeting the Timorese to find out about their expectations for the future and also their feelings concerning the Portuguese colonization and the Indonesian occupation. 

David Hutt was sent to write articles on politics, economy, culture and tourism, so we got to meet NGOs, the World Bank, we attended a very interesting and relevant meeting in the picturesque Maubisse, about changing cultural practices and traditions that were being economically disastrous to the communities in the countryside, we did a great city tour with our amazing guide and fixer Platao Lebre and we also had some free time to just enjoy the laid-back feel of Dili.

David left Timor on Saturday the 25th so then I had a week there on my own to explore and make some pictures. As you saw on my last post - I hope you've read it! :) -, I spent two special days on Atauro Island, where I got to say goodbye to my 20's, and the other four days I spent in Dili and its surroundings, photographing, meeting locals, and doing some sightseeing with our guide Platao, now also a friend.

I will soon make a gallery with my favorite images of this trip, but for now, here are some of them.

An epic sunset in Dili

An epic sunset in Dili

An unspoiled beach surrounded by green mountains in Dili

An unspoiled beach surrounded by green mountains in Dili

Maubisse under a mysterious mist

Maubisse under a mysterious mist

Dogs and fishermen sharing the early Sun on a beach outside Dili

Dogs and fishermen sharing the early Sun on a beach outside Dili

A sweet encounter in Maubisse

A sweet encounter in Maubisse

A fisherman walking off the ocean on a beach in central Dili

A fisherman walking off the ocean on a beach in central Dili

I didn't stay there long enough to have a deep understanding of the country and its current issues, but here is a bit of what I saw | heard | noticed: 

a) Timorese love football and I lost the counts of how many people I saw wearing soccer teams shirts, especially Real Madrid, Barcelona and Brazil;

b) their local city buses, called Mikroletos, are small and super colorful minivans in which, like here in Cambodia, "there is always room for one more", be it a person or any other living animal (chicken, goats, etc);

c) their taxis are all yellow ("Inspired by the ones in New York", a taxi driver told me with a smile I could't say if it was with pride or irony) and they are super decorated inside, with football team stickers all over;

d) they love Brazilians, because of football and also maybe because they relate to us regarding our time under Portuguese domination as well (the Portuguese colonized Brazil for 322 years and East Timor for over four centuries);

e) Because of everything they have been through, they don't really like Portugal and Indonesia, and I perfectly understand that;

f) Although Portuguese if one their official languages, most of the people I've come across either knew very little or simply preferred to speak Tétum, their own language. They see Portuguese as the language of the opressor, and I also get that;

g) They feel extremely happy for finally being independent and they know they gonna need some time to develop into a "big successful" country. "We are finally walking with our own legs", someone told me;

h) As much as they are curious about the tourists, they are happy to see them, especially in the villages in the countryside (the country was closed to the outside world during the Indonesian occupation);

i) The country has been relying on its oil and gas reserves (Timor Leste is one of the most oil-dependent economies in the world) but it really has to diverse its economy, and ecotourism is one of the best options they have, considering the natural beauty of the country and the richness of its culture;

j) I had the amazing opportunity to hear the stories of Pedro Lebre, our guide's father, a veteran who was part of the guerrilla resistance army during Indonesian occupation and who is now writing an auto-biography as well as articles about the history of the country and its current issues and challenges;

k) Finally, in Timor Leste I saw friendly, hospitable and optimistic people. I saw amazing landscapes, I heard lots of Brazilian songs and I noticed an incredible amount of humanity.

My trip to Timor Leste was one of the most special ones I've had so far and I do hope I will have the chance to go back soon.

I wish all the very best for the people there and hope the Timorese government will not put private matters above public ones. Young and yet weak, unstable institutions almost always are the perfect scenario for corrosive corruption, and that is one of the many challenges the people there have now to face.

The Timorese have already suffered enough under Portuguese and Indonesian dominations; may its own government be the way to solid freedom and development, not to the continuity of oppression.   

Bernardo Salce