By Fred ColganNearing the end of my month of work in Timor-Leste, I went with a colleague for a short tourist drive around Dili. We ended up at the cemetery at Santa Cruz, where there was a massacre of 270 peaceful Timorese demonstrators by occupying Indonesian troops 20 years ago on this day (November 12th). Preparations were underway for a memorial service.
(photo F Colgan)
We met some of the people organizing the memorial, and had some remarkable and touching conversations. This is what our driver, Eduardo, told us.
“We Timorese are all connected to the generations that have come before. I’ll tell you my story: In 1999 I was fifteen years old and supported the independence movement by carrying messages to the activists. One day I was cornered by some Indonesian soldiers, realized my life was in danger, and ran away. A soldier shot me as I ran – a bullet went through my upper leg – but I knew if I stopped I would be killed, so I kept running as best I could. I came to a cemetery – not this one at Santa Cruz but another one - and hid behind some gravestones. I was bleeding pretty badly, and was weak from loss of blood, and passed out with one arm across part of a gravestone. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, but I awoke feeling the power of the spirits of our ancestors inside me. I was able to get up and continue moving away from the soldiers, and I know those spirits saved my life. I don’t know whose grave I was at – but that doesn’t matter. We Timorese are all connected.”
Eduardo pointed across the street to a very neat military cemetery for Indonesian soldiers.
We do not forget, but we do forgive. We would never disrespect those soldier’s graves, even though they treated us very badly.”
He went on:
“The Timorese way is to hold the spirits of those who have come before us - and those who are yet to come – in our hearts and in our heads at all times. Our families are the center of our lives.”
So I leave this small country, one of the newest democratic states on earth. The Timorese are incredibly poor in material wealth, face a host of very difficult problems to solve in their efforts to establish self-sufficiency (everthing here is imported!), there are no jobs and little opportunity for young people, and…… I leave touched by the grace of the human spirit, so evident everywhere I went.
Next: news from Nigeria.