Dili and the imperceptible reconstruction

Source:  Diário de Notícias
Date:  14-11-2000
Dateline: Portugal
Byline: Luísa Melo
Original Language: Portuguese
Scope: Abridged
Headline: Dili and the imperceptible reconstruction

Paulo Castro Seixas went to Timor in September to carry out a research assignment financed by the Science and Technology Foundation (FCT)[Portugal] (…)

How noticeable is the reconstruction work in Dili?
Urban building reconstruction is hardly noticeable at all.  Several families have said they are still waiting for their house to be rebuilt and sometimes that just means replacing roof tiles.  Reconstruction is sporadic, and is happening where there is trade, in the hotel industry, and especially where embassies are located.  Individual cases of reconstruction are rare.  These are waiting for support from UNTAET, but it seems that there isn't much money available.  Perhaps that is because financial resources are being channelled to other areas.

But there is a lot of foreign investment…
This is a crisis situation in which make-money-fast-and-run industries are cashing in.  A lot of people are going to make a lot of money over the next three years.  It is a capital transfer economy.

When you were there doing research, what were relations like between the Australians and Portuguese?
There was tension.  The Portuguese were colonisers, but the Timorese are friendly towards them and the Australians cannot understand that.  On the part of the Australians, on the other hand, there are economic interests, and a feeling of opportunism that is reflected in the Portuguese. Furthermore, there is tension because their cultures are very different:
one, Latin and Catholic, the other, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and more pragmatic.

Do the Timorese realise that the Australians do not understand them?
I think so.  They feel it, rather than actually realise it.  The Portuguese are more aware of it than the Timorese themselves.

Can you give an example?
A police officer, for example, holds a very prestigious position in Timor. The Timorese explained to me that the police are very strict and that is how it should be.  They like very hierarchical authority.

How do they feel towards the Indonesians?
The foreigners talk about them more than the Timorese.

What do you mean by the Tim-Tim generation, which you refer to in your field diary, which is on Internet?
They are the people who were born or educated in Timor-Timur (as Timor was called during Indonesian occupation). …  It is the generation of people whose parents were brought up in a Portuguese culture, but who, themselves, were educated according to Indonesian culture, and who now have to adapt happily to an Anglophone culture.  It is a generation that is being sacrificed, and it is also a broken generation, because it saw its life plans interrupted.  They were born in Timor, but the place in which they were born and brought up has now disappeared.  This is a terrible shock for them.

There is also the question of education, and language.
Exactly.  All the schooling completed under Indonesian occupation is now worthless.  The parents of these young people are the first to admit it and they do so in front of their children.  The fact that UNTAET is repeating the comments about their courses being worthless does not help matters. Furthermore, the language they used to speak has been devalued.

Is the adoption of Portuguese more rooted in this Tim-Tim generation?
I did not see any strong opposition to Portuguese language.  I think the older Timorese have been helping to raise awareness on that score and resistance to it has diminished.  They would like to speak Portuguese and to go to Portugal.  Going to Portugal is a dream for them.

In your work you regard Timor as one of the countries with the widest variety of foreign nationalities, and with the highest rate of different nationalities per sq. km.  How does this multicultural population coexist?
It coexists like this:  there is a post-colonial political situation; there is economic neo-colonialism, basically due to the presence of the Australians and the UN salaries system.  Socially, there are many cases of an apartheid or subtle racism.  There are few hybrid places - the beach, the church, and the houses where NGOs are working.

How do the Timorese regard the boss-employee relationship?
The answer depends a lot on the job in question, but there is resentment, especially among the Tim-Tim generation, when it comes to the unskilled/semi-skilled jobs to which they have access.  Many of them would like to work in UNTAET, but not in those (unskilled) jobs.

Do the bosses have reason to complain about Timorese employees?
There is some tension.  Although they believe that the Timorese are able to learn, they complain that they are not very hard workers.  But you have to understand that a tacit pattern of not working very hard has existed for over 25 years of Indonesian occupation.  It is difficult to change that attitude overnight.  Also, the foreigners have had some problems in working with Timorese, mainly because of the man-woman relationship.  They don't like taking orders from a woman, and if the woman is younger than they are, the situation is even worse.  They say "yes", but then they don't do it.

How can this problem be overcome?
The precise nature of the problem first has to be identified, and then the right solution sought.  For example, if they won't accept orders from the nurse in charge, then the orders have to start being signed by not just the head nurse, but also by the hospital director, who is a man.  That way, there is no problem.  To change the situation, local mediators are needed, but I don't think the UN is very concerned about it.

How are the Timorese who are returned to the territory regarded?
With a combination of envy and resentment: they escaped from all the violence, had better opportunities in life, and returned with better chances of finding a place.  There is also resentment because they did not help to achieve Timor's independence and liberation.

So, the fact that the political class is now being made up from these returnees could be a negative factor?
They [those who remained in Timor] think so.  They think that now there is no place in the country for those who actually led the country to independence.

An Aggressive Society

How would you describe Timorese society?
It would not be untrue to say that it is a sick society in psycho-sociological terms. Aggressiveness is transferred to the domestic context, between men and women, between man and wife. … There are some obvious indications of this, like the tension between foreign men, whom I describe as being temporarily alone, and the local women who are not accessible - getting close is dangerous.  I have also had confirmation of this from witnesses and CivPol reports.  There are quite a lot of crimes (murders) of passion, many of which result from breaches of promise between families. I also learned that there are many cases of men beating their wives because the latter have been raped by Indonesians.  One of my informers, a 24-year-old divorcee with a son, told me that she was tortured every day at home by her husband.  She showed me the marks left by electric shocks and by boiling water.  Her husband did it because he thought she was too extrovert.  Apparently, this had also happened to many of her friends.

Do the NGOs know about these problems?
At a meeting with NGOs I raised this issue and the question of Aids.  With regards Aids, they told me they were doing nothing because the Bishop had told them not to.  The Medicos do Mundo (doctors of the world) have huge stocks of condoms stored away.  One doctor told me that, at a meeting with members of the Falintil, she had referred to the possibility of psychiatric support for those suffering from trauma caused by the war, but a Falintil commander had responded that support was not necessary because no one there had any traumas.