Sister Lurdez–Mana Lu, she was affectionately called–had been through it all: her entire village shot or kidnapped when she was eight; the Santa Cruz massacre of 1991; the full-scale Indonesian invasion in 1998; watching bands of drugged up militia lay waste to her country. Dr. Dan had watched her walk up to Indonesian soldiers and slap them in the face, scolding them like schoolchildren. She was there in the beginning behind the frontlines, setting up soup kitchens and organizing volunteers. There were fifty THOUSAND refugees up in the hills of Dare in 1999, crawling up the sides of the riverbed and filing up the winding rock path that took our CAR thirty minutes to scale. Yet she sought no recognition, no glory, no such folk-hero status. She simply wanted to help Timor.
She us at the entrance to the village. It lay next to the remnants of an abandoned mine from the early 1900s.It was a beautiful place, even in the smothering darkness of night. Rows and rows of flowers lined the perimeter, with freshly dug holes waiting to be filled with more local flora. We stepped across immaculately clean red tile floors, passing a semi-circle of school desks and a wide, blank chalkboard. Behind a partition were rows of tables, elegant metal chairs, and a balcony. The balcony that looked over all of Dili–from the flickering lights of the ships and oil barges in the harbor, to the rapidly growing urban sprawl of the city. If you used your imagination, you could picture the city just a decade ago, and how quickly it had changed with the coming of independence and foreign money.
The village had been constructed bit by bit by the local people, intent on creating their own homes, able to fix the buildings themselves when they inevitably needed repairs. Independence, not dependence. Mana Lu always stressed that. “It took just ten years for the mentality of the Timorese to go,” she sighed. “It will take a much longer time to build our spirit up again. To not rely on handouts from other countries to live. To stop asking for foreign investment and to invest in ourselves. To focus on Timor, and to become one country again. Not so many political parties making promises and promises to get power. We became an independent country, and for what? We are wasting it.”
When they first built Tibar, the Portugeuse charged $35,000 for a water system. There was no competition for that sort of services, and they had nothing to leverage in negotiation, so they had to take it. The well they drilled was 80 meters deep, supplying good, clean water to the facility. But the parts eventually wore out, and they pump that pushed the water up broke. When the pump broke the first time, the Chinese told them they needed $10,000 to fix it–money they didn’t have. But Minister of Finance garnered support from other higher-ups, asking for money where they could, and they managed to raise $6,000 to put towards the repairs. The repairs eventually proceeded with an inadequate budget, and the pump broke again just four months later. Money wasted.
To fix the pump again, the Chinese want this part, that part, and that part. Tibar simply can’t function without a reliable water source. The same schematics were even used for their other facilities all around Timor. Tibar has nine “houses” in total, and if the pump at the main site kept failing, the water pumps in Loess and Aileu will doubtless follow suit.
Looks like our work is cut out for us.