Saturday, November 8, 2008

East Timor (Timor Leste) - First Impressions

As the Silk Air flight from Singapore touched down in Dili, East Timor, the Timorese on board applauded and cheered. The plane began to brake almost immediately and rolled down the short runway and made a U-turn -- and headed for the tiny airport. A sign aboard the covered outdoor walkway said "arrivals."

Standing in the humid air, a young Asian couple was just ahead of me and suddenly the young man went into convulsions. I had never seen anyone go into an epileptic seizure, but I am currently reading Oliver Sacks' book Musicofilia -- which deals, in part, with the brain, music and epilepsy. So, my first thought was this was a seizure -- he immediately began to fall toward me -- as the convulsions continued. I broke his fall and his sister helped make him as comfortable as possible. Blood began to ooze from his mouth and he began to turn blue. I shouted for a doctor and fortunately there'd been one on the flight and was standing ahead of us in line and he came over to help. After some time, the young man was able to stand up and was taken to a local clinic. His sister told me he was going to be ok.

These were my first minutes in Dili.

As we made our way to the office, there were fruit sellers along the road -- some walked with baskets dangling from their sides -- baskets full of freshly picked mangoes. Mango season has just begun. Banana trees grow everywhere -- as do coconuts.

There are still signs of what the anti-independence militias did in 1999 -- after East Timor citizens voted for independence from Indonesia. There are burned out and abandoned buildings in Dili. I saw several on my way from the airport.

Most of the people in Timor Leste speak Tetum -- one of 16 indigenous languages -- Portuguese, the other official language, is spoken mainly by the ruling elite.

Some four hours after my arrival in Timor, I feasted with my friends on the beach -- fish, grilled shrimp, spicy salads, potatoes and carrots -- and orange-and-mango juice -- and we were treated to an amazing sunset -- brilliant reds, purples, oranges filled the evening sky -- and reflected onto the water in the bay.

I think I'm gonna like this place!