A Chinese grocery store The fruits & vegetables counter There we met
Astonished was the way she looked at me Standing there ignoring everyone
‘Hello, I am Lemon.’ ‘John Lemon?’ She laughed adorably
She took me home. ‘Am I the first lemon you ever met?’ ‘Nope. But you are the cutest lemon I have ever met’.
‘Yeah, brightly yellow and freshly firm. I am’. She kissed me and said ‘bye’ Into refrigerator, my overnight
‘Good morning Lemon’. I woke up. Into wash basin, she gave me a bath. Last thing I saw, a sharp knife in her hand. I was cut to slices A brokenhearted lemon I was Into a cup of her hot tea. She added ginger and honey Looking at me with runny nose She sipped me then sneezed ‘Ah tshih… ‘ ‘Ah tshih…’ ‘Ah tshih…’
While sleeping, I had a dream about my landlord. I saw my landlord suddenly passed away in my dream, and I was helping his family install the black cloth in the street in front of the house as part of the funeral decoration custom in Timor-Leste. I started to feel shocked at his sudden death, and it awoke me. I could hear the noisy sound of the rain crashed on top of the zinc roof. The rain has been pouring heavily since last night at around 8.00 pm. “How come it still rain like this?” I asked myself in sleepy mode. Someone came and knocked on the door of my room. It was one of the landlord’s niece. “Mana, maun, the water is getting into the house,” she said and moved to another tenant’s room to warn them.
In shock, we quickly got up from the bed. As we put our feet on the floor, it was no longer the dry floor we usually stepped on but a wet floor covered to our ankle level. Damn it! We realized that we were having some of our stuff put on the floor, and they must have been soaking wet. The books in the paper box, groceries we purchased last night were still kept in the cloth bag and kept on the floor—a suitcase with our essential documents maintained under the bedroom. Fortunately, we stored the rice in a plastic box. The water must have been getting into the room for about an hour ago. If it remained, we should find an upper place to keep our stuff. We quickly move all things to the upper-level object such as bedroom, table, or high-legged chairs as soon as possible and ensuring nothing was missing. We went out to check the surrounding. To our shock, the interior of the house has turned to a pool. The water level was reaching our shank.
Soaking wet and cold, we try moved to check the entrance of the house. As soon as we open the entrance door, the water came like a river. The water has covered the gate entirely, and as we got through, the water level has reached our knees. It is due to the entrance part of the house is shallow. Trying to calm our hearts, we moved forward to check the outdoor surrounding. Although the place is close to the street, we no longer see the road but only a stream of muddy brown rainwater flowing like a river in front of us. We were in flood.
We have been living in this rental house for almost eight years, but this was the first time we experience the worst flood. Although this area is prone to flood, unlike last year, we could manage to prevent water from getting into the house by quickly taking out the water with a bucket many times at the entrance until it dried. But this year, the water stream was strong, and no matter how hard we try to take out the water, it kept coming into the entrance and the house. It was already six o clock in the morning, yet the heavy rain and flood showed no sign to stop yet. The heavy rain had been pouring since last night. As we could not do much at that moment, the least we could do was to help each other keeping the stuff and belongings in a safe, dry place. The upper-level objects like a table, chairs, or upper part of the cabinet would be helpful for us to put the staff for the time being. Meanwhile, we were hoping that the rain would stop instantly and the water level would not rise higher.
Gathered outside the house with our feed soaked in the floodwater, we observed how water had covered our neighborhood street with its muddy brown color. On the other side of the road were our neighbors and some of the student tenants. They were also soaking wet upon trying to save their stuff and belongings from the flood water that infiltrate their rooms. Some of them were trying to reduce the water level by persistently taking out the water with buckets or sweeping out the water, although the water level remains. Some children and youth who might not be much affected by the flood were merrily playing in the floodwater and enjoying the rain shower in the flooded streets. One of the neighbors even took out his balloon mattress and put it on the streaming water, pretending to ride a boat in a river.
On the other side of the neighborhood, a tree was broken and falling, blocking the main road. Since our neighborhood street can be an alternative road, the cars and motorbike passing by our street and their driving gave added pressure to the water and made it getting into the house even worse. To minimize the water getting into the house, we blocked the road with two empty drums put on each side of the road as a sign that they should drive slow when passing by our street.
The rain has not stopped yet while the water kept flowing. The electricity was off. With the remaining battery in the smartphones and a weak internet connection, we tried to log in to Facebook to check how others were doing that day. To our shock, it broke our hearts to see friends and other people posted a live video about how severely they were affected by the flood in their areas/neighborhood. There were also posts about how water covered many roads in Dili in brown muddy water. Meanwhile, some other roads collapsed. Many houses located at the edge of the rivers collapsed and were carried away by the water current and people watching these views in horror. From Becora Terminal (bus station), Bidau, Caicoli, Villa Verde, Palapasso, Aitarak Laran, Fatuhada, Comoro until Tasi Tolu, all these populated areas in Dili areas were all in flood. Many people from these affected area immediately evacuated themselves to the nearest evacuation centers. Unfortunately, many of them claimed that they could not even save their household belongings and important personal stuff. The live videos shown people shocked, scared and crying. We could only saw these posts in silence while the floodwater soaked our feet. In our hearts, we prayed that the rain should stop soon, but as we saw the sky above the hills of Dare at the northern side of Dili, it was still a grey cloud covering the mountain, which meant the rain remained heavy there and the flood will remain as well.
Suddenly one of our fellow tenant neighbors told us that he needed to go to Comoro to see his relative, a police officer, who just died in a flood. The police officer was trying to save someone who was carried away by the flood, but after getting the person to the safe edge of the river, he got carried away instead. The body was found quite some miles from his original place. Soon after leaving with a motorbike, our tenant neighbor immediately returned because roads were difficult to pass through. Again we heard another news that a family lost their babies and other adult family member during the flood. Some were lost in the water current and not yet found.
Hearing this news was so saddening that even looking that even the coldness and muddiness of the floodwater were less cold and muddy than our sorrow. We could not imagine how hard it must be for the family who lost their loved ones on this day. Even though this day was the Resurrection Sunday, which many Timorese catholic suppose to celebrate through morning mass (amidst COVID19 and mass are held online), instead of celebrating it with joy that morning, we celebrated in sorrow.
Until around 10.00 o’clock in the morning, the rain eventually stopped, and the water level started to diminish. We gathered up, and everyone took a bucket to help each other take out the dirty muddy floodwater from the house’s entrance little by little. Extremely exhausted, it took us almost the whole afternoon o finally get the water out and thus allow the water level inside the house to diminish and dried out. Although we had to suffer cramp and back pain for taking out the water many times, the next thing we still got to do was to clean the house thoroughly by sweeping out the remaining water and mopping and rinsing the floor almost six times to get every room adequately cleaned. Until lunchtime, we could not cook because there was no electricity and inside the house it was dark. The landlord bought us each a pack of biscuits and a small bottle of cola drink for lunch as his token of appreciation and solidarity. We ate with no appetite, our legs were sore, and our back felt so much pain when sitting. Upon finishing with the cleaning and leaving them to dry, we went out and sat outside with our fellow neighbors. The street surface was then able to be seen after the floodwater has dried. Upon experiencing the flood on that morning, I learned that seeing the road clean and dry without floodwater covered it was indeed a blessing. Seeing a clear sky is a blessing. Seeing things in the house clean and dry with floodwater coming in is a blessing. Usually, we never appreciate this and see those aspects as trivial matters in our daily life.
Later in the evening, the electricity was back to normal; however, as the night came, we no longer feel safe like the other regular nights before. Still, we were worried that the tropical cyclone of Seroja might not have passed yet, that the heavy rain may come again, and that the flood might appear again. We saw the post about thousands of people staying in the evacuation centers that night. We believed they too must have missing to be in their own house, and they must have been worried about the situation at their homes. That night, I found many of my fellow tenants and neighbors slept late for the sake of anticipating the heavy rain that may come again. Would the heavy rain come again? We hoped not. May it passed soon.
When I was still a little kid My mom used to tell me “My child, do not get too close to an adult man” I asked her ‘why’? And she replied “Because there is a monster hiding inside them.”
When I grew up as a teenager Once again, my mom reminded me “My dear girl, do not get too close to the boys nor the adult man” Again I protested her “but why?” And she replied to me with a glare “Because they can turn to a monster anytime!”
As I became an adolescent girl my mom said “Please, do not rush to choose a man for your life, okay” “But mom…” and she interrupted “Because you may have ended up choosing a monster instead, dear”
Today, I am a grown-up woman Still, my mom said “Please ensure that you live well with the man you have chosen” I said “mom, okay. I heard it”, and she insisted again “Yes, you should my dear. And please make sure that he will never turn into a monster to hurt you and your children, I beg you.”
“Okay, mom. Okay. It’s noted. I will do.” I promised my mom.
Between 2013 and 2014, I first time heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, and reading through about it helped me to realize that the African-American people still facing systemic racism even today. The shooting of black people incidents such as George Zimmerman, teen Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown by the police officers was brutal and was unacceptable that lead protests and unrest in Ferguson in New York.
Before knowing about Black Lives Matter movement, I had heard about Martin Luther King’s story during a group discussion of Theology class at college which allow me to browse about his powerful speech of ‘I have a dream’ which expressed his significant dream that one-day black people would enjoy their freedom as a dignified human being in the society and being the citizens of the world with equal rights to fulfill their potentials and that their rights are respected. In 2009, this dream was fulfilled as it reflected through the winning of Barrack Obama, the first elected black president in US history.
Reading the history of slavery of black people, apartheid in Africa and colonialism across the world by the westerns for which my country was also experienced one made me somehow feel connected to the pain of injustice that the African-American people had experienced. In 2008 I watched The Great Debaters, a biographical drama movie depicted three black students from Wiley College who were coached by their teacher (starred by Denzel Washington) to win in a public speaking competition against Harvard University students. Apart from the heat of competition that attracted me to watch this movie, I was also able to get to know the how African-American community had to endure lynching that limited their freedom of expression and their rights as citizens and human beings in the USA.
Watching a trailer of Frederick Douglas’s biopic movie also again brought me another cringe of the bitter truth of slavery in the USA. Other times this year I watched another African-American starred movie such as Hidden Figures, Madea, and Get Out, these three different genre movies, starring mostly African-American actors and have different stories but they present similar themes about injustice towards black people in the USA. Perceiving similar messages portrayed in these movies allowed us to understand that racism exists and it is a serious matter to look at and to learn to eliminate it by cultivating respect towards every people regardless of their skin color, race and ethnicity.
This week, I read the news about the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man who died after being knelt on the neck for almost nine minutes by Derek Chauvin, a Caucasian Minneapolis police officer in Minnesota who came to arrest Floyd for suspecting him of passing a counterfeit $20 bill in a deli. This incident reminds me of a scene in Madea movie series where Madea (starred Tyler Perry) and his friends were stopped by an aggressive Caucasian police officer to check the driving license and treated them so harshly but fortunately, they managed to leave. Unfortunately, how heartbreaking it was that Floyd, who had lost his job as a local restaurant employee due to stay-at-home-order during the COVID19 pandemic had to left his two children at this tragic death. Despite Derek Chauvin and the other three police officers have been fired from their post and the mass protest had shown the rage for this incident to demand justice, this is again another incident where police brutality and racism could take people’s life for a lame reason. George Floyd’s death is another tragedy in how power is misused by the authority who supposed to not necessarily shot people to death when arresting them. This tragedy is truly a bitter truth of how brutal racism is and that the battle to eliminate racism is still going on in a country that was known for its spirit of freedom and human rights preaching.
I am actually living a thousand miles away from Minnesota, USA and as I saw this horrific incident, I reflected how the police institutions in my country, Timor-Leste, also had a similar issue with some of its police members misbehaved and some even cause death of innocent civilians. This reflection brought me a thought that proper training about human-rights and racism as well as anger management are important to be included for police training as they are guardians of law and order in the society and not the ones who exercise their mental instability towards the people during conducting their duty. Yet most importantly, I realized that learning and understanding about racism and its impact to people’s lives in the society and the world are crucial as a first step to prevent the racism as well as learning to promote respect and tolerance towards difference among the people in the society and the world, and for this, it shall start now.