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Dili


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Upon waking this morning, David feels absolutely dreadful, with a sore throat, dry cough, and swollen, red, and runny eyes. He stays in bed while I go to breakfast.

Breakfast

I ask David if he wants any food brought back to the room, and he suggests that a sausage sandwich would be lovely. Unfortunately, sausages are not on the menu at all. I order two fried eggs for myself, which come on really thick toast, and are surprisingly served in a bowl. I also have a cup of tea, as I don’t tend to drink coffee when we travel (those of you who have read previous blog entries will know that I only really like a weak, black Nescafé Gold).

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When I get back to the room, David has coughed so much that he made himself sick, with the resulting vomit being a worrying pink colour. I find this rather concerning as the colour could be an indication of the presence of blood – which is definitely not right.

Santa Cruz Cemetery

With David not feeling at all well, I go out with Danny on my own for this morning’s excursion. We start at the main cemetery in Dili, where Danny fills me in about some of Timor Leste’s poignant history.

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It was here, in 1991, that Indonesian soldiers, armed with automatic weapons, indiscriminately killed 271 peaceful pro-independence protesters in a brutal massacre. At the time, the island of East Timor, as it was known then, was under Indonesian occupation.

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Max Stahl

The incident was initially downplayed by the Indonesian government, who claimed the assault was carried out by a rogue fraction of the military. Max Stahl, a British cameraman, had managed to film the dead and dying as well as the atrocities that were carried out that day. To avoid confiscation of his footage, he then buried it in a grave. After being questioned for nine hours, he returned under cover of darkness to exhume the footage. With the help of a friend, he managed to smuggle out the videotape to Australia, and the footage was shown on British TV channel ITV a few months later in a program called In Cold Blood: The Massacre of East Timor. It was that footage that brought the plight of the East Timorese to world attention, causing outrage throughout the world. Max’s coverage is listed in Unesco's Memory of the World register as a "turning point" in the birth of a new nation.

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Max was buried here after his death in 2021

In response to the massacre, activists around the world organised in solidarity with the East Timorese, and a new urgency was brought to calls for self-determination. In a landmark vote in 1999, 78.5% of East Timorese chose independence from Indonesia, which was the culmination of 24 years of occupation by Jakarta and, before that, hundreds of years of colonial rule by Portugal. The small country finally gained independence in 2002. I do not wish to make this into a political post, but if you are interested, I suggest you Google East Timor Genocide.

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I wander amongst the graves, saddened by the poignant history attached to this place, and when Danny points out, rather matter-of-factly, the spot where his mother was shot in the back as she tried to flee from the violence, I go cold as a shiver runs through my entire body. I stop, my mouth agape, to listen to his own private memories of this incident (he was only 11 at the time). Suddenly this is no longer just a dramatic political event, it has become a personal tragedy. Tears well up in my eyes as Danny tells me how his mother later died from her injuries, unable to reach a hospital for fears of further assaults; and his father, who’d been stabbed in the leg, developed an infection in his wound and died a few months later. Danny was orphaned, aged 12, and quickly had to learn how to stand on his own two feet.

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The rest of our visit to the cemetery goes by in a blur, as I feel Danny’s burden hanging over me like a dark cloud.

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Resistance Museum

My visit to this harrowing museum does nothing to lighten my mood. Exhibits include photographs with explanations in several languages (no photos allowed), and at the end, a film tells the story of independence. Despite the commentary being in Portuguese only, the story is loud and clear. I feel shell-shocked as I exit into the bright sunny day, and my mood remains sombre as I reflect on the cruelty and unfairness that is the world, and how easy my life has been in comparison.

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Tasitolu Church

It is estimated that 98% of the population of Timor Leste identify as Catholic. The simple structure, which functions as a church was built for the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1989, where he addressed the congregation in English and the local Tetum language.

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It was also in this place that the independence of Timor Leste was declared in 2002, after which it was designated as a Peace Park due to its historical and social importance.

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Tasitolu is now a protected area, with three shallow saline lakes.

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In some years, the colour of the water in the lakes turns red as a result of algae, although some locals believe it is a result of the number of victims of the invaders during the Indonesian occupation who are buried here.

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This area also became a refuge for a vast number of internally displaced persons during the 2006 conflict, in what became a tent camp for approximately 150,000 people.

Tasitolu Beach

There are plans ahead for building a large resort on the nearby beach in order to encourage increased tourism in the country. The beach area already has several dive sites which are developed for tourists. Reef visibility is said to be excellent, there are no currents, and the sandy bank slopes gradually.

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Seeing many trees with buckets hanging from branches, I ask Danny about the significance. He explains that it’s an old tradition that when a child is born, a number of different offerings are added to a small basket, such as pens and books for future educational success, with the bucket placed high in a tree.

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Fishermen from Ataora, carrying their successful catch of octopus

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Dili Rock - the entrance to the city from Indonesian times

Sausages

On our way back to the hotel, I ask Danny if we can stop in a grocery store, as I want to try and get some sausages for David following his unsuccessful request for a sausage sandwich for breakfast this morning. We enter Dili Plaza, a large, modern supermarket, but it seems that sausages as we know them in the UK, are not available over here. All I can get is frankfurters, but I guess that will do. I also pick up some sliced bread and tomato ketchup, as well as a few packets of tissues for the patient back in the hotel. Our apartment features a well-equipped kitchen area, so I am able to make a sausage sandwich of sorts for him.

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The kitchen has a large fridge, 2-plate hob, and separate grill, microwave, toaster, and kettle, but only one plate and one coffee mug.

Dinner

Feeling a little better, David joins me in the café for dinner this evening. He orders grilled salmon but eats very little of it.

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I, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoy my chicken schnitzel with pepper sauce.

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This place makes the best Espresso Martini!

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After what has been a rather emotionally draining day for me, I am more than happy to retire to bed straight after dinner, as suggested by a still-poorly and physically drained David.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand Tour of South East Asia.

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Posted by Grete Howard 09:30 Archived in East Timor Tagged lakes beach church cemetery museum killing traditions graves resistance laundry murder independence superstition massacre martini dili vomit sausages occupation peace_park east_timor undiscovered_destinations timor_leste santa_cruz_cemetery santa_cruz_massacre sausage_sandwich vomiting_blood poignant max_stahl itv the_massacre_of_east_timor stabbing resistance_museum sombre_mood tasitolu pope_john_paul_ii tasitolu_church buckets_in_trees indonesian_occupation espresso_martini

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Comments

I hope David feels better after an off day and yep, the story of Danny is incredibe. I had the same experience in Israël when our guide told us a story about a young lady who later turned out to be his mother. Goose bumps is all I can say.

by Ils1976

Goosebumps is right, Ils, it brings history to life, doesn't it? Thanks for your comments. ♥

by Grete Howard

Sure does! No worries, it is so interesting and you are an inspiration to find interesting destinations! :)

by Ils1976

Thanks for sharing your insights! Live and learn! I am happy that justice has won!

by Vic_IV

Thank you very much for reading and commenting, Viv. ♥

by Grete Howard

Oh, hearing a personal story of the impact of these dreadful events must have made such an impact on you. It's things like that which bring the history to life in a way that even the best of museums cannot do.

by ToonSarah

Exactly. It was Danny who made the trip for us, as there is very little 'of interest' to tourists per se, but the fascinating - and brutal - history came to life with him telling us his personal stories.

by Grete Howard

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