During our visit we met a bunch of passionate people with exciting ideas to help shape the future of Timor-Leste. While you’ll find plenty of foreign aid workers in this new country, surely the Timor of tomorrow is best shaped by those who know it best: Timorese people. Here is a brief look at just some of the cool projects we discovered:
– Arte Moris: walking in off the dusty streets of Dili into the Arte Moris gardens is like arriving in the Berlin underground art scene… In a tropical jungle?! Amazing sculptures made almost entirely of collected rubbish. Litter is everywhere in Timor-Leste, with waterways often looking more like rubbish tips. There is no waste system in place and at best it’ll be burned (which of course isn’t good at all!). So to find people using this rubbish as the raw material to make something beautiful is really exciting. The team of artists who live and work at Atre Moris (the vibe is totally ‘artists squat’), run workshops to encourage local youth in creative expression, interwoven with themes surrounding the environment. Inside we caught an exhibition of two local artists, giving insight into daily life in Dili. Other works combine traditional handicrafts into modern works.
The bus pulls out of Dili and starts it’s steep ascent. It’s loaded up with people, luggage and bags of rice. Inside and out. 4 people share the seat across from us: grandma, mother and 2 children, trying to avoid my gaze. However, young boys, who can’t be much older than 19, seem to be running the operation and their cigarette smoke, blasting music and testosterone dominate over the other passengers. The aging engine groans, in its upward struggle. Dili, the sea and further out Atauro Island, are visible below us for the first hour, as the climb reaches more than 1000m above sea level. My ears pop. The bus stops a couple of times and the adolescent males open the engine hatch, hit something with a spanner and it comes back to life.
Usually, before coming to a country or region I like to learn as much as I can about the place. This time was different, we got immersed in a place completely different from almost anything we’d seen before and just then we could start learning about it. The reality of Dili, followed by the history of this youngest capital and country in Asia appeared to be really complex – fascinating, shocking and welcoming at the same time.
This morning I woke up to the sounds of coconuts hitting the ground from the tall palms in the backyard and children gleefully playing in a language I don’t understand. For the first time in many weeks I woke with a sense of being refreshed and allowed myself to emerge from beneath the mosquito net when I wanted to. Entering the kitchen, I found Emily pouring a freshly macheted coconut into a pot with ice for the group of chattering siblings from next-door. The smallest girl looks up at me and eagerly begins telling me something excitedly in Tetum. My “la kompriende” must be confusing to a 5-year-old who is speaking so clearly and confidently. I’m stoked to be in Timor.