Sweet sorrow – Travel Blog 8

7 January 2016

The day we left Timor Leste was a strange day and it began with an odd little encounter at the breakfast room. The hotel we stayed at was clean and well priced as well as flexible about how many guests we had. Some nights Alina and Lucinda would stay with us, others they stayed with other friends in Dili, but the hotel was fine with them staying. They said they would charge an extra fee, which never really arrived on the bill. The room included breakfast and there were varying amounts of us for breakfast and sometimes they would ask us to pay cash for the additional guests sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes they would ask us to pay for one and then sometimes they would let us all eat breakfast without incident. So we just never knew until we went to pay, it was like a daily surprise. I joked rather cruelly that it was like they were playing hotel, because they lacked the refinement of western five or even four star hotels, but they were also nice and friendly and really warm which is what is almost always lacking in any other hotel environment. Lucinda and I had been testing the staff on their treatment of Alina. To be fair it’s not that normal for one Timorese to travel with a large group of westerners, and more than once we had caught them out on going out of their way to serve her last and I had also noticed they looked to us to order for her, even though she speaks their language. So when we went to pay for breakfast that morning and they charged us more than they usually do I asked why and I could see them looking straight at Alina. They said “you have to pay for her” looking at Alina. I made them repeat it twice and then point at her specifically. They said “the room only includes breakfast for you, not her”. It was fair to say that the cumulative effect of the treatment of Alina in our company was building to a crescendo in my frequently violative temper and these three young Timorese wait staff were about to experience cyclone Christine. Alina and Lucinda were standing together and I said “why is it she is the extra guest (pointing to Alina) and not her (pointing to Lucinda)?”, “Why HER… and not HER?”. The staff were now visibly confused and intimidated by this angry white person, pointing violently at her friends. “I beg your pardon maam?”. “Well yesterday there was no extra charge and today there is, and you say it is for HER (pointing to Alina) and I want to know why it is for her (pointing to Alina) and not Her (pointing to Lucinda). “Well Maam she (pointing to Alina) didn’t come to breakfast yesterday”. All of a sudden I realise they are perfectly correct, despite their wildly inconsistent billing system, Alina didn’t have breakfast yesterday and she did today and there was no way I could establish the difference here was a racial one, and I am now making a complete idiot of myself in front of my family friends and three frightened Timorese wait staff. I mutter something about inconsistent pricing and hightail it out of there, while I do Lucinda whispers quietly in my ear “that moment in the argument when you realise you are wrong”… now she’s a comedian.

We ran some errands and headed off for the airport in a rush, not getting everything done that we had planned. For some reason Alina stayed at the car and with the rush and forms and paying exit money we couldn’t go out and say good buy or get her attention to come in so we felt a bit sad. As we emptied the last of our currency and our unused sim cards into Lucinda’s hands I started to feel a bit emotional. I don’t know why, we knew we would see her soon enough and probably Alina when they came on a scheduled visit to Australia. It was like the strength that rests on Lucinda had been with me the entire trip, all the things I had seen and experienced I had not shed a tear. And I cry in Disney movies, seriously I am an absolute sook. Even one of the aid workers had said to me “I see what you see here, I probably just shed less tears”, I honestly told him that I hadn’t shed a tear. He probably thought I was heartless, but this was not the reason.

In the Christian world we talk about people having an anointing or a mantle resting on them, and that this equips them spiritually for the job they have to do. I think while I was with Lucinda I came under her mantle and I felt a great strength, but as I walked away from her and put my bags on the export security check, the streanth completely lifted and I could feel a tsunami of emotion about to unleash itself. Despite my best efforts to hold it back the tears just started flooding out of me.  Not quiet dignified tears, but those Murial’s Wedding open mouth howling tears. Tears for this little nation, for the toddler and his desperate cry, for the lady sweeping her dirt floors, the illiterate pastor and his mistreated monkey, for the children, the beautiful bright children, the smartly dressed youth, the men selling fruit on their shoulders, the poor wretched dogs, and skinny chickens. I wept uncontrollably right out of the airport and onto the tarmac. It was not a hopeless sadness it was what the Bible calls a godly sorrow, a sorrow that leads to life, and an intercession, a cry to God for these people and this nation. I knew I would return. I knew with more certainty that God really loves this nation with a love he keeps for the poorest. I felt I was leaving Jesus in a way, Jesus in these people, Jesus who sits with them and waits with them on the plastic rickety chairs and on the side of the diesel fume filled roads, waiting for their time.