Wednesday, January 28, 2009

1 the new 18 – East Timor 22nd January 2009

Me and a couple of other colleagues were given an invitation to Antonio’s nephews 1st birthday party. We were given the invitation around 11am for the evening party starting at 7pm, so I thought it was probably an afterthought gesture. With this in mind I thought I’d go along with a present, smile my way through an hour of birthday cake and screaming tots, then make a hasty retreat........WRONG!

Apparently the 1st birthday is as important as we treat the 18th birthday, probably because there is such high infant mortality here. We arrived a little late about 7.45 and of course Carlos and I were the only Malai. There were chairs lined up everywhere and the guests just kept coming and coming. As soon as you thought the party was full, more chairs would be put out and more guests arrive. That’s the logic behind the last minute invitation; if you sent the invitation out too early then you wouldn’t be able to cope with the numbers!

As part of the Birthday Boys present I had bought shoes and socks for a one year old. I wish I had brought them for a 3 year old as the pile of presents was so high it would have been more useful to buy him something he would grow into.

Most of the parties I go to, as soon as you walk in you are offered a drink. This doesn’t happen with Timorese parties, you go in and greet the hosts, then you sit in rows until most of the guests have arrived, this was about 9.30, so some guests had been sitting there for 2 ½ hours! Then the speeches start, including the local policeman asking the boys not to get drunk and cause trouble with the girls, then the cake cutting, then finally the food was served. Once one person got up to eat it was like a stampede to the food table. At that point you were offered water and a choice of a beer or a soft drink. As I was driving I opted for a soft drink which upset the drinks server a bit, because he was almost insistent that I had beer. I suppose because beer is more expensive, he couldn’t understand why a Malai wouldn’t want it.

After dinner the dancing started, if you can imagine a very stiff waltz holding your partner at least a foot away from you, that’s how the Timorese dance. As soon the music stops they almost run away from each other back to their seats at opposite ends of the room. One little girl did make Zelia and I laugh though. She was about 2 ½ and her brother must have been 6, she was insistent she was going to dance with him, so her chubby little arm was wrapped around his legs gripping on to the bum seat of his trousers almost pulling them down and every time he tried to untangle himself she would increase her grip hanging on for dear life.

Carlos and I had only planned to be there for an hour, but when ’Achy Breaky Heart’ started playing I could take no more. I feigned a knee injury that prevented me from dancing and I had to work in the morning. We finally got home at 11pm, the party ended at 6am!

Talking of parties, I went to a friends Xmas party where he dressed up as Santa. Many of his local Timorese community were there and even the women had a drink. He had to teach them how to drink as they were knocking back wine as if it was orange juice. The next day he got a phone call from three of them saying they had to go to the hospital because they were very sick. He had to convince them that they didn’t need the hospital, they were just nursing their first ever hangover!

Christmas day was a bit more of a western affair. We did one dive in the morning where I finished the last dive of an Open Water Course, so my student was qualified on Christmas Day. Then we took our guests to join Tony and his friends on the beach where they had set up a great shaded structure and a big BBQ. Chilling out on a white sandy beach in the tropics on Christmas Day can’t be bad.

New Year I spent in Bali, in the cooler climate of Ubud with friends. On the 2nd I treated myself to a half day spa, a chakra massage where they dribble hot oil all over you, a very strange experience. This was followed by a body scrub and a flower bath. The nicest thing about the place was the setting; each room had a huge open window which overlooked lush greenery. As you relax in your bath surrounded by frangipanis, you feel the cool breeze from the window and watch geckos running along the sill.

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