For me, Eric Weiner's book, The Geography of Bliss, and the village of Maubisse, Timor Leste will always been linked. Weiner's book is about his search for the happiest places on Earth. I happened to read it while I was in Maubisse -- a three hour drive from Dili, the capital. Maubisse doesn't make it in Weiner's book, but I think it could be there.
I've been to Maubisse twice now -- and both times the place felt magical. The stress of Dili seems to melt away as soon as we get to the outskirts of town -- the roadway is almost overgrown by coffee plants. The forests are lush, birds are singing from atop the tall trees that provide cover for the coffee plants. The roadway is packed with people -- many smile broadly and/or wave as we slowly drive past. People are very poor in Maubisse, but they appear to be happy, genuinely happy. I see happy in their eyes when I speak with them.
I think it has a lot to do with living off the land -- growing their own fruits and vegetables as well as their livestock. I grew up similiarly -- near Asheville, NC, a town that did make it into Weiner's book.
Just like Asheville, Maubisse sits in a bowl surrounded by mountains. The temperature has been pleasant both times I've been there -- and I'm told that's the way it is -- almost always. Nights can be chilly -- a refreshing break from the constant heat and humidity of Dili.
One of my favorite stops is the market. It's always alive -- this time -- there are lots and lots of beans, pea size tomatoes, cabbages, potatoes and tangerines. Oh, the tangerines are absolutely awesome -- homegrown with loads of juice and packed with flavor.
Guava, too, is in season -- we bought a couple of kilos for about one dollar. My colleague told me that guava boosts the immune system -- and protects against the mosquito-borne Dengue Fever. I don't know if that's really true -- but if it is -- I am well-protected. These guava are about the size of a golf ball and have a sweetly-bitter taste.
The carrots in the market are huge -- some are as big as those small glass bottles of Coke. Carrot in the Tetum language is "senoura" -- pronounced like Senora. I'll take a couple of senouras, doc!
(Can you tell which of these two guys is from Maubisse by his smile?)