April 4th 2021; a Sunday of Flood in Dili.

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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.

On the Death of George Floyd

Photo source: https://images.app.goo.gl/XxzsT8SiYxwL. Instagram: johnboyega

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.  

Today, I Woke Up Early at 5 am

Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash

Last night, before laying down to sleep, I created a mental alarm in my mind to wake up early at 5 am tomorrow. And this morning, I did woke up at the planned hour with light feeling and I felt so amazing as if I just woke up after a thousand year of sleep .

Since the past months of last year, I have been rarely wake up early in the morning before 6 am and instead I usually woke up at 7 to 8.30 am with a heavy sleepy head and sticky eyes. After waking up from bed with such condition, I would rush my self to do everything as instant as possible. Measure, wash and cook the rice on rice-cooker and while it is plugged on I would made the bedroom, swept the floor, boil water in the electric kettle while thinking about what to wear today to office and whether I should iron the clothes I choose.

I would then continue rush myself into bathing quickly, brush my teeth (and wash my hair if necessary), wash the underwear and drip-drying them onto the clothes line. After that, I would run into the room quickly to dry myself from the remaining bathing water drops with the towel, applied some lotion in body before I could change the clothes and get myself ready as quickly as possible as if I am chasing by somebody in this such a rush. I would style my hair in the most simple hair style, mostly clipped or tied high bun and put some bobby pins in my front head hair to make the calm the flying strands. I had a curly hair with flying strands. After the hair do, the next thing is make up and to minimize time I would only apply moisturizer and a lib gloss and the last touch is to spray a perfume before grabbing my bag and the wet towel when went out from the room and locked it. I would choose my pair shoes-of-day, mostly flat shoes or sandals with low heels and after hang the towel onto the clothes line to let it dry, I would leave the house to office with a sun-glass covering my eyes from the hot weather in Dili, Timor-Leste.

Such a rushing messy morning. After staying in office the whole day and deal with a lot of work stress and life stress, I would go home drained and exhausted. I do drink water to hydrate myself but not as mush as it should be to hydrate a drained person. I would take a bath, change clothes, prepare dinner or do some shopping at the nearby shops before preparing dinner. After dinner is ready, I would eat or drink a light junk-food while trying to have a conversation with my partner which turned to be a very short dialogue with no further interactions. My partner would be busy with his phone in the attempt to avoid the serious conversation that may turn down his mood of discussing and analyzing issues in our relationship. With such response, I would automatically letting him know that dinner is ready and we both would eat in silence sometimes watching some boring TV channels. After dinner, I would expect my partner to wash the dish which sometimes made him gaze me in an unpleasant look. But he did do the dishes afterward.

After watching his favorite channel, he would then lay down in the bed leaving a space for me while I turned off the light. I crawled onto the bed and sleep with my back turned to him who also turned his back to me as if we both are forming letter X with our bodies. While he is snoring in the deep sleep, my eyes are wide open evaluating how I have spent my days in exhaustion. Why I felt as if I am dragged? Why I have to sleep tonight and go to work tomorrow to repeat the routine and many more why come to my mind until I realized it has been 12.00 am and I should force my eyes to shut down for sleep. It continued remain like that for many months and I know for sure that I have been indulging myself into the bad habit of sleep. Tomorrow, I will be wake up in a sleep head again.

Today, as I started my first week of the new year, I realized I have to change the habit chain. As I woke up, I could hear the bird chirping, the local vegetables sellers playing the musing loudly from their sales cart. I woke up, evaluate my feeling and I feel better. Much better though I do not know what will happen today. I went out to catch the veggies salesman to buy some vegetables which cost me only 1 USD. Now, I realized that if continue to wake up at this hour I could catch cheaper vegetables sellers and thus help this local seller to earn income rather that I purchase from big Chinese shop who charged extra costs to the local vegetables the sell. I started cooking rice and prepare my lunch box, I drink a glass of water and repeat other routines. My partner still sleeping for he is taking annual leave. Oh how I wish I could extend my annual leave which I have to end due to some important tasks in this week. I bring an apple with me for breakfast at the office, unfortunately I could not manage to prepare a decent one.

At the office, I felt that I could cope better with the atmosphere. There were less pressures but I know this is because it is the beginning of the year. The real pressures will come along during the whole year and I know I have to be ready to bear it. Perhaps, one way to anticipate is to wake up early in the morning at 5 am like today.

#notetoself #shortstory #dailylife

Dili, January 2019

My Curve

My curve is the first curve you felt when you were still a baby. The first curve you touched with your mouth looking for breastmilk. The first curve you smelled and you have been calling it ‘mother’ to remember it forever.

As you grew, you learnt about every shape of my curve whenever you saw me in front of your eyes, naked or fully dressed. That was the beginning of how you praise me from all the women and at the same time you got scared too because you heard that my beauty will not last.

Little did you know, that, my outer beauty is just a shell covering my deepest inner beauty. But you do not want to go deep into myself to explore me.

Then, everytime you saw me showing my beauty through my boldness, outspoken, persevereness,resilience, fierce,wise, charm or calm, you mocked me with your cowardness to turn me down with your power of patriarchy.

Dili, October 2018

THE FUTURE

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With my childness

I lift my eyes

Looking forward

The future

Is sitting quietly

His shadow

Still blurry

With a blade in my hand

I will scratch the present

Perhaps, this way

the future

will reveal itself.

 

(Tetun Version)

LORON ABAN

Ho ha’u-nia kiik
Ha’u foti matan
hateke ba oin
Loron aban
Tuur nonook
Nia lalatak
Sei malahuk
Ho lamina iha liman
Ha’u sei koir loron ohin
Karik ho nune’e
Mak loron aban
sei hatudu oin.

VZ.

BELINDA AND AN ADVICE OF BEING YOUTH AS A GIRL

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Meriam Belina until today is still a popular Indonesian actress and singer since I was still studying in kindergarten school in 90s era.  She has a beautiful Indo look that catches every eye and performed very well in every acting role in the movies she starred. Even today, she still plays in some Indonesian TV series that I have lost interest to watch. At the moment, she must be doing her life well in Jakarta, Indonesia while I am remembering him from Dili, Timor-Leste.

In 2000s, hundreds miles away from Jakarta, I met Meriam Belina’s doppelganger from Lospalos, a post administrative of Lautem Municipality of Timor-Leste. She was a popular girl I saw at school on our seventh grade. She has a fair skin, slender figure and a brown highlighted silky long black hair. Her long facial feature, nose shape, brown eyes and her smile almost resemble Meriam Belina on her youth version. People could even say they both were sisters if they took picture together. People called this girl Belinda.

First time getting to know her, I told her she looks like Meriam Belina and her name too was almost same. She laughed and has her cheeks blushed a pink shade.

Belinda to me was kind of a free soul and an easygoing girl who loved to enjoy life’s present blessing without having to worry about tomorrow’s burden. It was commonly known by other girls that time that she dates several boys for fun. Something which was considered bitchy by many girls.

On our adolescent time and being high school students, I remember one of friend retold me on her advice about youth time. She said, ‘my friend, our youth time happens only once. Therefore, you have to enjoy it for the best as you can. On dating, she then said ‘girls, date as many boys as you can and do not dwell on sadness of having a break up. You may have many boyfriends and exes when you were young but later you will end up with one man only or two if you are lucky, depend on how your destiny will be.’

While being taken by her bold advice, I did realize that that time, one of girl’s common talked problems (only among girls) was how to deal with dating and breaking up with boyfriend. Many took days to move on after break up. Some were wondering if they would be able to find a good man, if they might end up marrying a good man or marry the love of their life.

While fantasizing about the right man or prince in the armor suit to save us the damsel in distress, we did not realize that apart of dating a boy there are so much more for girls to pursue for the future. Studying and learning various knowledge and skills are very important means of preparation for the future.  However, I found that not all girls are lucky enough to have the chance and opportunities to continue explore the opportunities to learn and work. Many of girls in my youth era either ended up marrying and getting pregnant in a young age by their own choice or forced by some circumstances. Some marry to save the family reputation without proper mental preparedness and has to marry for the sake of saving their and the family’s reputation as being pregnant without marrying is culturally a shame.

Those wishes, I think, are the influences of popular romances and culture where woman are destined to wait for the right man is very strong belief among young girls. In a culture where patriarchy is dominant, a man is seen superior being while a woman – despite of her achievement – will be still underestimated and should not be more superior to men in society’s normative judgment. Today in my adulthood, I just realized how important it is that our youth generation needs to have a proper guidance from the society, from the world about how to enjoy their youth accordingly.

One day I met Belinda. She is already a married woman with two or three kids and a loving husband (as I perceived in her social media display). Every time I met her, she reminded me of her advice about youth and dating. She might be ended up marrying a right person and live happily who knows. However, nowadays, I think her thought is indeed still relevant. For girls, it is very important to not dwelling on the break up grief but to enjoy their youth through a meaningful and careful way. Moreover, as I would like to add, it is important for girls in their youth to explore as many opportunities as possible by studying and learning more and it society has great contribution to empower them through proper guiding and support.

#youth #memory #girls #empoweryounggirl

AL

Congratulation

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Congratulation is a word we said to please or to support other person or something because of any progress that has been made.

Sometimes that progress can be any small thing or even some big things. Sometimes, the progress can be about something that just started, going on or something that has been done.

Nevertheless, a progress is something relative for which to somebody it is significant but to other may not always the same. This depends on every individual who perceives and feels it.

Sometimes, the word ‘congratulation’ itself has rather became a cliché as we often use it for something insignificant. However, to perceive and to feel that something is truly significant or not is somehow depends on every individual.

To me, the word ‘congratulation’ is a precious gold coin. Thus I would love to reserve well my gold coin and will only give it to somebody or something that deserves it when I could perceived and felt that the thing that was done did have a value or significance for me to give away my precious-gold-coin and that its significant is not only imply to me but also to everyone regardless of how small or how big the impact is.

-Pássabe, Oecusse (Timor-Leste)
June 14, 2018

The White Cloud

Long time ago, when I was still a child, I loved to see the white cloud floating up in the sky. I was curious on how that white cloud could always float that way and did not fall.

When I heard people saying that the cloud falls back to the earth as rain, I continued to not believe that the rain is the cloud that turned itself.

Today, when crissing this cloud and looking at them through the galass window, I still admire how this cloud that from the down there my eyes saw as a solid form can be penetrated by the aiplanewithout destroying it.

This cloud keeps floating as usual. Perhaps, it is the same with my hope that I shall have.

On the Sky of Dili-Oecusse, 6/2018

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