Vol. 5, No. 3
East Timor Speaking Tour
||Things Fall Apart
I was staying at a home in the Kampung Alor neighborhood of Dili, close to an Aitarak militia post. Natercia, who rented us the house, had four children, including two teen-aged daughters. They came by on Friday evening, 12 hours before the vote results were to be announced. Natercia asked if her daughters could stay with us, since she was taking her sons to the mountains. She was sure the militia would attack the next day; they had already burned some pro-independence houses in the neighborhood. "If my family isn't all in one place," she told us, "some of us will probably survive."
We told Natercia that her daughters were welcome to stay, but that if we were evacuated, our governments probably would not allow her children to come with us. She took her son to the mountains, leaving her daughters sleeping on the floor. But before the sun rose, Natercia came back and took the girls away.
The overwhelming vote for independence was announced Saturday morning.
When I went home that afternoon (we were not going out after dark), new Indonesian flags flew in front of every house on the street. The militia had visited each home, threatening to kill people if they were pro-independence. The flags were evidence that, although four out of five East Timorese had voted for independence, none lived on our street.
In this climate of terror, there was no place to obtain food, and we resigned ourselves to a hungry evening. But the doorbell soon rang. Maria, whom we had never met, lived across the street. She brought us dinner and breakfast to show her appreciation for our coming to her country. She had not evacuated because she didn't think her 18-month-old son could survive in the hills.
Monday morning, as militia violence escalated across East Timor, we decided it was safer for us to stay in IFET's headquarters, and left the keys to Natercia's house with Maria. Throughout the day, we took reports of atrocities (people murdered in Bishop Belo's residence; a thousand forced from the Red Cross office, which was then destroyed; attacks on the Australian ambassador's car; thousands of East Timorese loaded at gunpoint onto ships and trucks). We were one of the last links between the destruction of East Timor and a world which was running away just as it had in 1975.
But our group was not cohesive. With East Timor being destroyed around us, the 25 IFET-OP people left in Dili took the Monday night evacuation flight to Darwin, along with the Australian ambassador and a hundred UN personnel.
Natercia's house, Maria's house, and the entire neighborhood were destroyed that week. I don't know where any of them are, or even if they are alive.
-- Charlie Scheiner