Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday Afternoon in Dili

Share the Road

It's not unusual to be sitting in a restaurant in Dili with several Australian soldiers at other tables with their automatic Austrian-made rifles leaning against the bar or lying on the floor at their feet. The Australians are in Timor-Leste to help keep things calm.

They have several barracks around the country and occasionally they go on manuevers -- mostly to practice since, generally, things are pretty calm. Yesterday, as I was driving to a small town about an hour from Dili, the capital, I came up on a small convoy of armored personnel carriers. We wound up driving behind the convoy almost the entire way -- a very narrow road that zig-zags up the mountain and back down again.

Later that afternoon, speaking at the opening of a new media center for journalists, I joked: "and I'd like to thank the Australian military for today's escort. My passengers were especially pleased since I was forced to drive slowly and no one got car sick."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Grandmother

I have really been blessed in my life to be able to have both my grandmothers in my life for nearly half a century. Last December, I lost my 99-year old grandmother. On Tuesday, I lost my 91-year old grandmother. I called her Granny.

She had an amazing sense of humor and even when she became really frail in the last six months of her life -- she never lost her ability to make people laugh. Even though she was often in tremendous pain -- laughing seemed to make her forget about it -- even if for a few moments. We always traded jokes.

When I was home in North Carolina for a few weeks in December and January, I got to spend a lot of time with Granny. We laughed and sometimes we cried because we both knew that we probably wouldn't get to see each other again. It was difficult to say goodbye that cold day in January when I climbed on a plane to return to Timor-Leste.

Thanks to Skype, I was able to call her almost every day, once I got back to TL.

I spoke to Granny yesterday -- one final time. My mom held the phone to her ear and I told her that I loved her. I am not sure she could hear me through the fog of the morphine drip that doctors had been administering for the past few days to ease her pain. When my mom came back on the phone line -- she told me that my grandma had passed away as I was saying goodbye.

What I will miss most about my grandma besides our many games of hearts, laughing and joking together and just being in each others presence -- is our daily phone conversations. We chatted a few minutes each morning before I went to work -- she would almost always begin with "and where are you today, honey?"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day Trip to Liquica

The town of Liquica sits on a hillside overlooking the sea about 35 kilometers east of Dili, the Timor Leste capital. The first thing you notice are the colorful buildings as you arrive at the T-intersection. Not much to do in Liquica, but the second thing you notice is the quiet. It's a nice, refreshing break from the noise of Dili.

On the way over to Luquica, the road hugs the hillside above the sea part of the time and then turns slightly inland -- where you encounter one fruit and vegetable stand after another -- freshly picked bananas, artichokes, giant cucumbers, a purplish red fruit (Rose Apple) that has a potato-like texture, but is refreshing on a hot day -- particularly if it is chilled.

Back in Dili, it's late afternoon and the first few raindrops hit the tin roof of my house -- suddenly it's a deluge. The rain is pounding the roof so hard that I can't carry on a phone conversation. My mom, on the other end, asks "what is that noise?" It is truly deafening, but there is something cozy about the rain -- it also cools down the air for a while. The rain has eased up, but I can still hear the car tires meeting the asphalt on the wet street below.