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The stories of Sofia, Adodi, Lola and Aje

  • Spending time talking to people is the most useful way to learn about a country and its people.

By Khoo Ying Hooi

People often ask, what is interesting about politics? How do we learn politics, and what is politics actually? For me, whether you like it or not, politics is part and parcel of our daily life.

I am lucky that my job brings me to various countries. For me, each work trip is a learning process. Out of the several countries that I visited, Timor Leste is by far my favorite for many reasons. I remembered my first trip in 2013 to Timor Leste, a country that I didn’t know much. As I wrote in my previous article, I remembered I was immediately smitten the moment I stepped into the country, with an attraction of its rich culture and beautiful landscape.

Timor Leste was colonized by Portugal from 1515 onwards until 1975. After nine days of independence, the Indonesia invaded the country and occupied Timor Leste, known as East Timor at that time from 1975 to 1999. A United Nations (UN) referendum was called and the people have chosen to be separated from the Indonesia and finally they achieved their restoration of independence in 2002.

As I got intrigued with the people in the country, I started to learn about Timorese politics by learning its culture. Often time, what I learn most through work trips is through the stories of the people. What follows is I had been very fortunate for wonderful encounters with these special people that I meet along the way.

In one of my earliest trips to Timor Leste, I remembered meeting with a father with his five years old daughter named Sofia. Both of them were sitting nearby to the beach and I walked near to them and introduced myself. The father was very kindly to speak to me and he was at that time waiting for the right moment to go fishing with his daughter.

Not knowing what’s her future like, I remembered vividly her joy of playing the sands near to her father. He told me if he gets to catch enough fish, he would sell it for some money. Otherwise, it would just become the meal for his family. Sofia’s story struck me at that time of how simple a family can be.

During my visit back in early 2017, I met a boy named Adodi. Adodi was seven then. When I met him, he was walking around bare foot nearby the landmark hotel in the capital city of Dili, called Hotel Timor. I remembered the first time when I saw him; he was running towards a man to try and sell his popcorns but to no avail. But his determination fascinated me and I took a picture of him. I met him again in subsequent trip nearby the Burger King and I finally get to take a photo together with him.

Just a week before I left to Timor Leste, I saw former president of Timor Leste, also the co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Jose Ramos Horta shared a picture of them together, where he praised Adodi of his determination in earning a living. Being a very shy boy, he shown us the reality of life where he had no choice but to survive.

While spending my time nearby to the beach in the area of Areia Branca in my recent trip, I met an old man, Aje and a little girl named Lola. While having coffee and lunch at the beachside, Lola came around to every table to sell the mangoes. Speaking to her, she said she was asked by the father to sell the mangoes so that she can get to go to school. Her smile despite of being very shy to people, similar with Adodi, she knows that is what she needs to do in order to go to school. Listening to her brought me to tear of what a little girl of ten years old do for her schooling and also for a living.

Aje has a very pleasant personality. Staying in Hera, it is about an hour journey with mikrolet, the local transportation to the city of Dili. Originated from Maubisse, he said he spent five years working in Dili, before finally deciding to move to Hera and grows his own vegetables and fruits for a small living. Now, at a much older age, he enjoys spending his time during weekends to walk around in Dili.

It is not often that when we travel to countries, we spend time talking to people but that’s the most useful ways for me personally, to learn about a country and its people. Very often, these people help to change a lot of how I view things.

I thanked Adodi, Aje and Lola for sharing their stories with me. It was a fascinating feeling and I knew that I had been taught valuable lesson that I’d never forget.

(Khoo Ying Hooi is Universiti Malaya Senior Lecturer)



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