KASAMA Vol. 16 No. 4 / October-November-December 2002 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Dili, East Timor
12th November 2002

This day of commemoration of the Dili massacre began fittingly with prayer to remember those who died. We began at the same place, Motael Church on the waterfront in Dili. The altar was outside. The congregation sat on plastic chairs. Many were out on the street sitting on the walls of houses, listening to the beautiful singing; most people held flowers.

The mass over, the crowd formed a procession to walk to the government buildings for a flag-raising ceremony. People walked quietly. They were remembering. This was the first ceremony since independence. A tiny woman shared the shade of my umbrella. She told of her difficulties living in Dili without family, house or work. My poor Tetun was up to understanding just that much. We were soon separated by the crowd looking for a vantage point and a little bit of blessed shade.

The sound of a marching band could be heard and the crowd was soon treated to a very colourful display of marching to music. Our kids from the mountains would have loved it. Many other children were luckier as each Dili High School sent a group to march. They had an excellent view of Mr. Alkatiri as he made the official speech in Portuguese and then in Tetun. The scouts marched too and did the flag-raising ceremony with style. The Timorese are tough, and after this long ceremony in terrible heat they walked to the Santa Cruz cemetery. We headed for a cold drink instead.

I then went to the first "Giving Testimony" of the victims of all those years of repression. The setting itself must have brought back memories for many. This was the U.N. compound we watched on our T.V. screens. Those hills behind were the sanctuary for desperate refugees fleeing the militia in 1999.

Today I am in time to hear 3 narrations in "Hear Our Voice" organized by the Commission for Reception, Truth, and Reconciliation in East Timor. A young man told of his torture in 1998 by Indonesian and Timorese soldiers. Among the horrors he related (and I could read in my translation) was their attempt to cut off his ear.

Then an older woman from Baucau spoke. Her story related to events in 1983 and again in 1991, but as she spoke she was still reliving those terrible days. She was ill treated with other women because their husbands had joined the resistance. Besides all the torture she endured, she was also beaten so badly that she is now blind in one eye.

The final narration that day reduced everyone to tears. A young woman spoke. When she was first raped by the militia she was a virgin. She was held in both East Timor and west Timor and repeatedly raped. This happened in Sept 1999. She has a little girl as a result of these rapes. The little girl was brought to the stage by her grandmother. The commissioners urged all present to welcome this child and other children like her. I wonder what suffering lies ahead for her.

The witnesses, the commissioners, and we listeners then formed a procession to Santa Cruz Cemetery. Like a funeral procession, it was led by motorbikes moving slowly with their lights on. At the cemetery we sang hymns and placed flowers on the altar already overflowing with flowers. Our hearts and eyes were all overflowing too.

Not just in this cemetery but in cemeteries all over the country the people are remembering their dead this month. In our neighbouring village of Railaco Leten a few weeks ago, I attended a mass in the little graveyard. One of my students, Augusto, asked me to take photos for him. The graves were of his grandmother and brother who died of starvation after the Indonesian invasion. So many deaths. There seem to be graveyards everywhere. And the death rate, even now, is still high.

These are the hungry months in the mountain villages. Everybody is thin. The hard work of planting the corn has been done but the rains haven't come yet. In the mornings the villagers go to mass and in the evenings they take out their traditional instruments and do the rain dance. The water taps in the villages are dry. Women and girls are making the long climb down to the river for water. Yes, November is a difficult month in East Timor….

Margaret Hounslow

Margaret Hounslow has been in East Timor since July volunteering with an empowerment through literacy project.